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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Updated Aug 6, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: Ethical tech in crisis

On Thursday August 6, Axios Cities author Kim Hart hosted a conversation on how technology companies are responding to the pandemic, featuring former U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil and Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth.

DJ Patil unpacked how tech companies are building ethical and responsible tech centered on privacy and transparency during a time of crisis.

  • On the issue of misinformation during a pandemic: "It's no small statement to say [misinformation] is life or death. And so platforms have responsibility right now to figure out what is the right level of action at a bare minimum. It's creating stricter standards for how and what is allowed on their platforms."
  • On his concerns with the lasting consequences of quickly developing COVID-19 response technology: "It's easy to say this technology can be beneficial. But I have very serious reservations about it being deployed. What happens once it's deployed? Do we keep that in place after a pandemic? Those are the questions that we should be prepared to answer right now."

Kenneth Roth discussed different contact tracing models, highlighting the Bluetooth-based contact tracing system designed by Apple and Google.

  • On apps that use Bluetooth technology rather than location data for contract tracing: "Not relying on location data is a huge step forward in terms of privacy...[The app] did not identify infector, [it] simply told somebody that you were near somebody who was infected. They didn't put the data in a central database that the government might use for other reasons."
  • On the responsibility of Big Tech when it comes to moderating what contract tracing apps are allowing in their stores: "When you have problematic uses of technology of this sort, Google and Apple shouldn't participate. They should say we're not going to let you put apps like this on our stores if you're going to be using it this highly abusive way."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with
Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer at Salesforce Paula Goldman who discussed Salesforce's work on ethical tech development.

  • On having clear priorities in developing ethical technology: "Even though there's no definition of responsible tech for a pandemic, we need to think about things like privacy. We need to think about how vulnerable groups [are] being affected."

Thank you Salesforce for sponsoring this event.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Australian officials in Victoria announced Sunday 17 more deaths from COVID-19 — a new state and national record.

The big picture: Australia was on track to suppress the novel coronavirus in May, but cases have been spiking in Victoria in recent weeks, where a state of disaster was declared last week, enabling officials to introduce restrictions including a night-time curfew in state capital Melbourne.

Aug 7, 2020 - Health

Massachusetts pauses reopening after uptick in coronavirus cases

Gov. Charlie Baker at Boston MedFlight Headquarters on Aug. 4. Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday that the state's second phase of reopening is "postponed indefinitely" in response to a modest increase in coronavirus cases.

The big picture: The state is reporting more COVID-19 deaths than most others across the U.S. outside of domestic epicenters like California, or previous hotspots including New Jersey and New York, per a New York Times database.