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Google and Apple begin testing COVID-19 exposure notification API

Just a couple of weeks after revealing their intention to collaborate over a contact tracing app, Google and Apple have made the first API available to developers.

There doesn’t seem to have been a formal announcement, but plenty of US tech media such as Tech Crunch and the Verge are reporting on it, implying they have been notified directly. It’s being called the ‘exposure notification’ API, which seems to be designed to provide a more specific description as well as making the whole thing sound a bit less intrusive and Orwellian.

The reports say more details will be made available tomorrow, but access to the code will remain limited to public health authorities. While this creates concerns about how the apps will function, especially with respect to privacy, it also makes sense as a fragmentation of the contact tracing app ecosystem would massively diminish the effectiveness of each one.

The political implications of this unprecedented collaboration between the two companies the dominate the global smartphone market aren’t limited to privacy concerns. Opinion is divided about whether the decentralised approach advocated here or a centralised one in which governments gather data from smartphones is best.

While it may lose some of the public communication tools offered by the centralised approach, we feel the Google/Apple approach is better for the simple reason of trust. If people think a contact tracing app will be used to spy on them and arbitrarily punish them, they’re much less likely to install and use it. The efficacy of such an app relies on the participation of a large proportion of the population, so the number one priority should be maximising uptake.

  • TechXLR8


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