Apple and Google today launched their Exposure Notification API to assist public health authorities around the world with slowing the spread of COVID-19.
On the Apple side, the API is available in the iOS 13.5 software update released today. Apple said that several U.S. states and 22 countries around the world have requested and received access to the API to date, with more expected to join in the coming weeks. A few of the committed states so far include Alabama, South Carolina, and North Dakota.
Apple and Google have consulted with a number of public health authorities on the API, including the CDC, the Association of Public Health Laboratories, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, and the Public Health Informatics Institute of the Taskforce for Global Health.
Apple and Google said that the API is intended to supplement rather than substitute for traditional contact tracing. In a statement, the companies said that the API is designed to make contact tracing apps work better:
One of the most effective techniques that public health officials have used during outbreaks is called contact tracing. Through this approach, public health officials contact, test, treat and advise people who may have been exposed to an affected person. One new element of contact tracing is Exposure Notifications: using privacy-preserving digital technology to tell someone they may have been exposed to the virus. Exposure Notification has the specific goal of rapid notification, which is especially important to slowing the spread of the disease with a virus that can be spread asymptomatically.
To help, Apple and Google cooperated to build Exposure Notifications technology that will enable apps created by public health agencies to work more accurately, reliably and effectively across both Android phones and iPhones. Over the last several weeks, our two companies have worked together, reaching out to public health officials scientists, privacy groups and government leaders all over the world to get their input and guidance.
Starting today, our Exposure Notifications technology is available to public health agencies on both iOS and Android. What we’ve built is not an app — rather public health agencies will incorporate the API into their own apps that people install. Our technology is designed to make these apps work better. Each user gets to decide whether or not to opt-in to Exposure Notifications; the system does not collect or use location from the device; and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to report that in the public health app. User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage use of these apps.
Today, this technology is in the hands of public health agencies across the world who will take the lead and we will continue to support their efforts.
Governor Doug Burgum, North Dakota:
North Dakota is excited to be among the first states in the nation to utilize the exposure notification technology built by Apple and Google to help keep our citizens safe. The CARE19 Exposure app will help us improve contact tracing and continue our ND Smart Restart by notifying people who may have been exposed to COVID-19, reaching the greatest number of people in a way that protects their privacy. As we respond to this unprecedented public health emergency, we invite other states to join us in leveraging smartphone technologies to strengthen existing contact tracing efforts, which are critical to getting communities and economies back up and running.
Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama State Health Officer:
The State of Alabama’s priority as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic together is the health and safety of its citizens as well as their privacy. In partnership with Apple and Google, the Alabama Department of Public Health, University of Alabama System, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, we are harnessing technology to accelerate exposure notification to slow the spread of COVID-19 so that we can all be safe together.
Leslie A. Lenert, MD, Assistant Provost for Data Science and Informatics and Chief Research Information Officer, Medical University of South Carolina:
The Department of Health and Environment Concerns (DHEC) and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) are building the SC-Safer-Together COVID-19 risk management app, which is designed to let people know anonymously that they may have been exposed to the virus and giving them the option to connect with public health officials. Built to tough medical privacy protection standards by health care providers, the SC Safer Together app, using the Apple-Google system, protects users’ privacy and will help South Carolina safely get back to work. MUSC is also proud to be working with Clemson University and the University of California San Diego on smart and private extensions that will further enhance the app’s capabilities.
To learn how the API works, read our Exposure Notification guide.