California, United States: Apple and Google announced a new potential means in the promulgation of COVID 19 exposure technology on Tuesday. Maryland, Nevada, and Virginia will be the first states to adopt the system, along with Washington, D.C. To date, more than 20 countries and regions have issued apps based on the software. In the U.S, 25 states and Washington, D.C, have been testing the system, and six states representing roughly 55% of the population — Virginia, North Dakota, Wyoming, Alabama, Arizona, and Nevada — have launched applications.
This new initiative has sidelined the notification tools used by regional public health groups to maintain a characteristic application of their own. The new drive by the ventures has already caused an alarm towards the invasion of privacy on creating the applications themselves which were previously under the scrutiny of public health authorities.
The new system named Exposure Notification Express will give Apple and Google the following basic information about the public health agencies which have started using it:
- How to reach the agency.
- COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations.
- The agency’s name, logo, and criteria.
The Big Techs will be utilizing this information to create an exposure notification system implicating the public health agency.
Apple and Google first launched this application in May and the second phase was initiated this Tuesday on September 1st. The software uses Bluetooth radios within iOS and Android systems to track distances between phones. Users get a notification if their phones come close to an infected person. In the second phase after a dialogue with public health officials, epidemiologists, and app developers in around 100 briefings, an attempt has been made to make it faster for public health authorities to use the system. Work has simultaneously begun on the fundamental aspects to set up servers and the creation of apps.
Though Google and Apple have taken a larger role, the public health agencies are not out of the picture. They will continue to exert their influence in helping exposed people in further contact tracing and containment activities. They can also continue to build their custom applications. The iOS and Android tools will stay bilateral for use in collaboration with existing exposure notifications apps.
The representatives from both the companies emphasized that the application is “another option” for states, “without compromising on the project’s core tenets of user privacy and security.” Hence it is subject to the choice of the customer to either use the application or not.
However, according to a research report by April polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation, people are twice as willing to download a contact tracing app if it’s managed by their local or state department or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rather than a private technology company.
From the very onset of the project, privacy concerns have given a rise to doubt among the people. Despite privacy protection by the company by not sharing the user data or location, there have been concerns about the other ways through which a server could identify people or trace IP addresses. Also, the fake alarms on the positive cases and people’s choice of not reporting the cases could cause a problem.
Apple users in states using Exposure Notifications Express who upgrade to iOS 13.7 on Tuesday will get a notification telling them the service is available. If they want, they can turn the feature on without downloading a separate application. On the other hand, android users will be able to download a separate application from their public health agency, created by Google later this month.
The effectiveness of the applications will be known only if more than 60% of the population uses it as per the data provided by researchers at contact tracing project COVID-Watch.
According to Norman Oliver, commissioner of the Virginia state’s health department, Virginia which was the first state to go live an app built in the infrastructure in early August, has had almost half a million citizens download the app in the very first week.
The initiative for setting up this project though couldn’t replace the physical contact tracing and have raised some serious doubts regarding privacy concerns among people, however, the possibilities of being cautious and conscious at the same time to safeguard oneself at just one tap of the phone can’t be dismantled altogether either.
Source: Appedus Magazine