May 20, 2020 - Technology

Apple, Google release their coronavirus exposure notification tech

An illustration of two people with their cell phones exchanging data
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Apple and Google said on Wednesday that they have finished the initial version of their exposure notification technology and are making it available to health authorities to build their apps. Android and iOS are both getting updates today to enable the technology.

Why it matters: The Bluetooth-based technology is designed to augment human contact tracing and offer a way for people to find out when someone they have been in close proximity with has tested positive for COVID-19.

Where it stands: Apple and Google said they have provided access to a number of US states and 22 countries and expect more health authorities to take advantage of the technology in the coming weeks.

  • "Today, this technology is in the hands of public health agencies across the world who will take the lead and we will continue to support their efforts," the companies said.
  • North Dakota and Alabama were among the states that said they plan to quickly make use of the technology. It's not immediately clear how many states plan to use the technology or over what time frame.

Between the lines: The key question now is how broadly people will adopt the apps that use the technology. Apple and Google have sought to maximize privacy, in part to get the critical mass of users necessary to make the technology effective.

  • To protect privacy and limit the potential for abuse, the rules set by the companies require that no location data can be used, individuals have to voluntarily participate and only health authorities are permitted to access the technology.

How it works: Under the Apple-Google technology, each participating user's phone will send out a random and frequently changing key to identify itself. If someone later reports they tested positive, their phone broadcasts out the keys it came in contact with, allowing those other users to be notified.

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