Apple and Google update COVID-19 exposure notifications with privacy enhancements

Apple and Google have provided several new updates coming to their joint contact tracing system, which they are calling “Exposure Notification” technology. The companies are putting their focus on stronger privacy protections in the upcoming API. Public health authorities are especially taking huge steps with their apps to notify potentially exposed people as fast as they can. Changes include modifications to the API that the companies say “provide stronger privacy protections for individual users”. They claim that these new changes will enable health authorities to build apps that make use of the API to develop more useful software.

Apple and Google aren’t building the apps. Contact tracing apps with exposure notification systems will be built and deployed by public health officials. Both Apple and Google’s stores have restrictions around coronavirus apps that aren’t from a recognized authority, so only recognized apps will be able to use these APIs. Apple and Google’s APIs will become available in mid-May, the companies previously said.

Changes coming to Apple and Google’s COVID-19 Exposure Notification system:

Here is what’s coming to Apple and Google’s API changes and Exposure Notification system later this week:

  • Bluetooth metadata will be encrypted, making it extremely difficult for anyone to be identified via the provided information.
  • The app will be able to display the number of days since a person’s last exposure to the pandemic.
  • Developers will be allowed to specify signal strength and duration thresholds for events that may have lead to exposure.
  • The API will determine an approximate number of days since the last exposure and what preventive measures should be taken next.
  • Exposure time will be recorded in five-minute intervals, with a maximum exposure limit of thirty minutes.
  • The system will randomly generate keys, which will lead to less vulnerability for threats of tracking and leaks.
  • The system has a built-in way to disable the feature by regional authorities depending on individuals and different circumstances within their area.
  • The encryption for Apple and Google’s API system is switching to AES from HMAC. Many devices have built-in hardware for accelerating AES encryption, which points towards better performance and efficiency in phones.
Exposure Notification
Source: Forbes.

Apple and Google will now be providing signal strength information in the form of Bluetooth radio power output data, which will provide a more accurate measure of the distance between two devices in the case of contact. Individual developers can also set their parameters in terms of how strong a signal is and what duration will trigger an exposure event and report it via exposure notification technology.

It was reported on Thursday that Apple and Google confirmed their plans to distribute the beta seed version of the OS update that will support these devices next week. The update will support any iOS hardware released in the past four years and runs iOS 13. On the other hand, according to Android, it would cover over 2 billion devices. The companies are working together to develop a tool for taking better precautions during the pandemic and are expected to disable their services in the future, once the pandemic is over.

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