Apple-Google contact tracing apps not to access users' location data

Thursday, 07 May, 2020

Guidelines for automated decentralized contact tracing apps to fight COVID-19 include a prohibition on location data collection, a limit of API use to one app per country, and no use in targeted advertising. Every device will be assigned a "diagnosis key" that health officials can update with the patient's coronavirus status - information that users can opt out of having shared. They proposed a new exposure tracking notification system that works using Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) signals.

Apple and Google have shared the first images of what the user interface of their upcoming collaborative coronavirus contact-tracing tool could look like when it eventually rolls out.

Apple and Google have said that they would ban the use of location tracking in apps that use a new contact tracing system the two are building to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The APIs developed by Google and Apple will not use location tracking data, according to the developer guidelines released Monday.

There can only be one app per country, which is created to avoid fragmentation and therefor encourage efficacy, though Apple and Google say that if a country is relying on a regional or state-based approach, they're willing to work with authorities to support them in the best way possible.

A document released by the Department of Health said that the app - developed by Waterford-based NearForm - can be used by anyone with an Apple or Google smartphone less than five years old. Matthew Ryder, a Queen's Counsel lawyer at Matrix Chambers in London, said that, "If Germany, the U.S. and Italy can all do the job that we want to do with a decentralized system that Apple and Google have facilitated, which is the least interference of privacy, we need to understand why the United Kingdom thinks it can't do the job and needs a different system". The NHS is reportedly displeased with Google and Apple's efforts because the data collected is decentralised as opposed to routed through a government server. That means only users who were tested will be able to share a positive diagnosis with the app, and this will prevent potential abuse.

That was a developer-focused release, with both the companies deliver beta copies of their software at the same time. After the COVID-19 war is past, apps must be done away with. The companies chose to collaborate on a standard based on use of Bluetooth identifiers, not geolocation data, as a way to protect user identity, and also ensure the system can work in a variety of environments, including indoors where geolocation satellite services are unavailable.

How does the Covid-19 contact tracing app work?