Apple and Google betas give first look at contact-tracing API

The foundation for Apple and Google’s coronavirus contact-tracing software went live in beta on Wednesday, April 29. 

The beta versions are now available through iOS 13.5 and through a privately released Google Play update, where software developers can access the APIs (application programming interfaces) needed to include the tracking technology in future apps. 

Although an official release of the system is expected in May, the beta version will allow app developers to work with health officials to build the final apps for people to use, as well as to encourage feedback that will help improve the various features, according to CNBC. 

Here’s how the apps’ contact tracing — which has been rebranded as “exposure notifications” — would work: Users who download an app that uses Google and Apple’s software can share if they have tested positive with the coronavirus with public health officials. Officials would then be able to use that user’s short-range Bluetooth to notify anyone who passed that person of possible coronavirus exposure by tracking their phone’s data.

Apple and Google representatives said they are giving public health authorities control over the ability to define and calculate an appropriate exposure risk level that they can choose to assign to users who are notified they’ve been exposed to a person who tested positive.

Attempting to track the coronavirus has been a common way the tech world is lending a hand during the pandemic. 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a new app last month that could theoretically tell you if you crossed paths with someone who has the coronavirus. The free, open-source app shares location data between people’s phones to let them know if they have come in contact with someone who has the coronavirus.  

Experts say that apps like MIT’s that use location tracking and future apps that come out of Apple and Google’s API will only work if people actually use them. 

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has also stressed the importance of contact tracing to track down outbreaks before they severely impact communities. 

For the latest updates on the novel coronavirus outbreak, visit the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 page.

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