Apple, Google release early COVID-19 contact tracing API to developers

Apple and Google have released the first version of their COVID-19 contact tracing API, which they’ve since rebranded as a less-threatening “exposure notification.” This is a developer release, and is a seed of the API still in development. Apple and Google are looking to collect feedback from developers who will be using the API to create new contact tracing, err… “exposure notification” apps.

COVID-19 contact tracing

Darrell Etherington for TechCrunch:

Apple and Google say they will be providing additional details this coming Friday about the API and its release, including sample code to show how it operates in practice. Both are intent on providing updates to the documentation as they become available, and in adding access to new developers throughout testing, though this will be gated because the companies are limiting access to this API to authorized public health authorities only.

This update includes an added ability for health authorities to define and calcite an exposure risk level for individuals based on their own criteria, since that varies organization to organization. This will be variable based on approximate distance of an individual to a confirmed exposed COVID-19 patient, as well as the duration of that exposure. Developers can customize notification messaging based on their defined exposure levels to ensure alerts correspond correctly to calculated risk.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple was smart to get out ahead on this digital COVID-19 contact tracing, and drag along perpetual-follower Google, before governments were able to really begin concocting draconian Orwellian schemes born of their own fevered nightmares.

UPDATE: 3:30pm EDT: Just so there’s no confusion: Contact tracing Exposure notification apps are nothing more than pablum for the masses: “Want to feel safe while getting back to work, shopping, going out to eat, vacationing, etc.? There’s an app for that.”

Apple is very likely taking the lead on this thing (and dragging Google along) because they want to be out front of myriad privacy issues, not letting governments that are proven to overreach and which love centralized programs dictate the direction of contact tracing.

Even in Singapore, where citizens follow the rules, their COVID-19 contact tracing app has been installed by just 12% of the population). That’s at least 48% short of the lowest threshold for “digital herd immunity.”

No matter how well-designed the system is on paper, in practice too few people will install and use it*, while reliance on Bluetooth connectivity (range, materials penetrance, public transport, etc.) will result in myriad false positive issues.

This seems like something designed to provide a digital security blanket to help increase confidence for going back to work more than anything else.

*In the U.S., beyond the obvious constitutional rights issues, 18% of the U.S. population, or nearly 1-in-5 people, do not even have a smartphone. So, with one of every 5th person roaming about by default, not to mention all of the opt-outs, contact tracing via iOS and Android smartphones would be more of a feel-good security blanket than a useful, working system.

More about the myriad issues of Bluetooth COVID-19 contact tracing apps can be found in our Takes here and here.


    1. Not seeing a shift in tone here. MDN’s Takes are perfectly consistent. They can still think digital contact tracing is not going to work (for all of the very good reasons they’ve already given elsewhere) while praising Apple for defining the terms before intrusive governments did.

    2. Your tone shift detector is broken.

      Is English your first language? MDN are not praising digital contact tracing, they are praising Apple for setting the terms. Duh.

    3. MacDailyNews can simultaneously approve of Apple defining the extent of contact tracing and also think it won’t be of much use in practice. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

      There is no “sudden shift in tone” here, so there’s nothing for you to be “Haha-ing” about.

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