Apple and Google bring app-less contact tracing to smartphones
Image credit: Dreamstime
Apple and Google have announced a new contact-tracing system designed to help public authorities track potential coronavirus transmission between individuals without having to build their own app.
The new 'Exposure Notifications Express' system will only be activated if a Public Health Authority (PHA) supports it, but can allow users who haven’t downloaded a specific app to still be involved in contact tracing. The PHA can load a simple configuration file onto users’ phones that will provide the criteria for when an exposure notification should be triggered.
The UK was developing its own centralised contact-tracing app in May of this year before it scrapped the project in favour of creating a new app using the decentralised framework model provided by Apple and Google.
Users will be asked if they want to opt in to the new system and will receive an alert if someone they have been near later tests positive for Covid-19.
Apple's iPhones are to be updated with a new version of iOS that will alert users if an exposure notification system is available from their PHA. Android users, on the other hand, will get a prompt from the operating system to download an app.
“We’ve been exploring different app uptake levels for some time in the UK and we’re really pleased to see that contact-tracing apps in the UK and the USA have the potential to meaningfully reduce the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths at all levels of app uptake across the population,” said Professor Christophe Fraser, from the department of health at Oxford University.
“For example, we estimate that a well-staffed manual contact-tracing workforce combined with 15 per cent uptake could reduce infections by 15 per cent and deaths by 11 per cent.”
Nevertheless, a study last month found that the apps need to be used in conjunction with other measures for it to be effective at reducing Covid-19 transmission rates.
The US states of Maryland, Nevada, Virginia and Washington D.C. will be the first places to make use of the new system.
“As the next step in our work with public health authorities on exposure notifications, we are making it easier and faster for them to use the exposure notifications system without the need for them to build and maintain an app,” Apple and Google said in a joint statement.
“Exposure Notifications Express provides another option for public health authorities to supplement their existing contact-tracing operations with technology without compromising on the project’s core tenets of user privacy and security.
“Existing apps using the exposure notification API will be compatible with Exposure Notifications Express and we are committed to supporting public health authorities that have deployed or are building custom apps.”
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