Google and Apple have launched the exposure notification API for COVID-19. The much-awaited application relies on the Bluetooth technology to detect the exposure risk. It notifies users in case they have come into contact or spent time with a COVID-19 patient.  

Remarkably, Apple and Google officials have shared that several US states and around 22 countries have already shared willingness to create contact tracing apps with their software. Moreover, several governments had also tried to create their own phone apps to curb the spread of COVID-19.

However, most of these apps faced technical glitches on the iOS and Android smartphones. Owing to the technical issues and rising concerns around privacy, the apps were not installed by many.  

Notably, neither of the two companies behind the API are creating any coronavirus related mobile apps themselves. However, the public health agencies would now be able to access the API and use it in their COVID-19 apps.

Apple and Google had already rolled out the beta versions of the app to select developers working with public health agencies. However, now these developers can officially roll out COVID-19 apps using the API.

Furthermore, the other contact-tracing apps were tracking device’s GPS which had raised increasing concerns around user-privacy. Thus, Google and Apple have banned it in their new API tool because of concerns around accuracy and privacy.

Exposure Notification API likely to be Incompatible with Aarogya Setu

Notably, the API developed by Apple and Google is unlikely to be compatible with the Indian Aarogya Setu app. The app has already been registered over 10 crore times. However, some of its features imply that it may not with the tech tool developed by Apple and Google.

Aarogya Setu app relies on location tracking data while the aforementioned API prohibits the use of location tracing to protect privacy.  It is also worth noting that even in India, several privacy advocates and experts have raised concerns against the use of location tracking.  But, the government has refused to change the location tracing feature of the app.

While many have been eagerly awaiting the new API, others have argued that its restrictions would be a hindrance to public health officials. Tech giants have clarified in their statement that the API is not meant to replace contact tracing but to rather supplement the process.

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The contact-tracing system requires trained healthcare workers to reach out to people who may have been exposed to a positive COVID-19 patient. On the other hand, the exposure notification system automatically notifies people if they are detected to be in vicinity of an infected person. It aims to reduce the spread of coronavirus through asymptomatic carriers.

Interestingly, the joint project was initially referred to as a contact tracing software tool. However, it was later renamed as an ‘Exposure Notification API’ to further reflect its functionality more precisely. It has been designed to alert users of potential exposure to the virus while also keeping in mind the concerns around user privacy and security.

Apple and Google have said that user adoption is key to the success of this entire system. They added that anonymous identification and privacy protection would encourage users to adopt such apps. Therefore, the tool has been designed to protect user identity through encryption and thereby encouraging larger use of the apps.