Apple, Google Boost Privacy Protections for Contact-Tracing Tool

Monday, 27 Apr, 2020

As already known, the Apple, Google coronavirus tracker uses the Bluetooth technology on smartphones, both Android and iOS, to aid contract-tracing.

Apple and Google are jointly developing an app that would use Bluetooth to track and trace smartphone users' proximity to other users.

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The technology is to be released early next month, but the data arising from it will only be usable to the HSE and other health authorities - Apple and Google say that they won't have access to it and won't allow anyone else to use it.

Exposure notification is only done on device and under the user's control.

One notable difference is that the companies have stopped referring to the service as a "contact tracing" and now instead call the the technology "exposure notification".

But they have disagreed about whether to log such contacts on individual devices or on a central server - which would be more directly useful to existing contact tracing teams that work phones and knock on doors to warn those who may be at risk.

Exposure time will be recorded in five minute intervals, with the maximum reported exposure time limited to 30 minutes. Google said the tool will work with Android 6.0 or higher, which covers about 2 billion gadgets.

This system, configured by Apple and Google, will be put into use gradually.

In addition to some revisions to their initial plan, the two tech giants both promised to disable the new technology once the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has subsided.

The European Commission has also recommended that data harvested through coronavirus contact-tracing apps should be stored only on users' own phones and be encrypted.

"Encrypting this data makes it more hard for someone to identify a person with it (for example, by assigning the transmit power to a particular phone model)", the companies said in the updated document. In fact, you don't even have to opt-out, you can simply not download any of the forthcoming apps onto your device, and nothing will change.

This approach, which requires the second phase of the project to work, means smartphone owners can be alerted without telling health authorities that specific people have come into contact with infected individuals. A seed model of the app will probably be launched Tuesday for iOS customers, supporting Apple gadgets launched inside the final four years, to ensure that public well being authorities to start testing it.

DP-3T said in a statement that it is was "very happy to see that Germany is adopting a decentralised approach to contact tracing and we look forward to its next steps implementing such a technique in a privacy-preserving manner".

After activation, users' devices regularly send a beacon via Bluetooth that contains a data protection identifier - basically a sequence of random numbers that are not linked to a user's identity and change every 10 to 20 minutes for additional protection.