Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Apple and Google will notify phone users who have come into contact with someone diagnosed with Covid-19 even if they haven't downloaded a track-and-trace app

Apple and Google will automatically send notifications to some user's phones if they have come into contact with a person infected with the coronavirus. 
The system is an expanded version of the Apple and Google partnership which led to a specialised coronavirus tracking app framework, launched in May. 
The update will not require health authorities to build their own app, and it is hoped this simplified version will encourage uptake of track and trace protocols. 
Users will need to authorise the system on their phone as it will be 'off' by default and can be flicked on or off at the user's discretion. 
But for those who do activate the system, it will allow iOS and Android phones to communicate via anonymous Bluetooth signals to determine who may be infected.  
If a person receives a positive diagnosis they will be contacted by their local health authority and given a unique PIN which, when clicked or inserted into an app, will register the positive result.
This will then trigger the notifications which will be sent out to people who that individual may have infected. 
Public Health Authorities will have to authorise the system before it goes live in a specific region, and the tech giants say it is designed to work in conjunction with, not replace, existing track and trace Apps. 
The update will not require health authorities to build their own app, and it is hoped this simplified version will encourage uptake of track and trace protocols. Users will need to authorise the system on their phone as it will be 'off' by default and can be flicked on or off at the user's discretion
The update will not require health authorities to build their own app, and it is hoped this simplified version will encourage uptake of track and trace protocols. Users will need to authorise the system on their phone as it will be 'off' by default and can be flicked on or off at the user's discretion 
The notifications will only be sent out to users in areas where the local public health authority has launched the system, called Exposure Notifications Express.  
Currently, that is Maryland, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. It is not yet live in the UK or internationally and there is no known timescale for a wider rollout.  
Apple and Google have taken it upon themselves to provide their technical expertise for free in the fight against the coronavirus.
Combined the behemoths, which both have been embroiled recently in antitrust litigation, have a net worth of almost $3.5 trillion. 
The GDP of the United Kingdom, the fifth highest in the world, is only $2.8 trillion. 
The two companies have made the adjustment to its Covid-tracking software to allow for greater uptake of track and trace procedures, which health experts believe is a key tool in the fight against the virus. 
A landmark study recently reviewed 15 scientific papers and found that even under optimistic assumptions - where up to 80 per cent of people are using a contract tracing app with 90 per cent of the identified contacts following quarantine advice - physically distancing and venue closures would still be required.
However, Professor Cristophe Fraser from Oxford University believes the apps and automated track and trace systems, as well as manual contact tracing, could play a critical role in defeating the pandemic 
'We've been exploring different app uptake levels for some time in the UK, and we're really pleased to see that contact tracing apps in the UK and the USA have the potential to meaningfully reduce the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths at all levels of app uptake across the population,' he says.  
'For example, we estimate that a well-staffed manual contact tracing workforce combined with 15 per cent uptake could reduce infections by 15 per cent and deaths by 11 per cent.'  

Apple and Google's API provides the bare bones of a track and trace app and requires health authorities to take the blueprint and build their own app from it.
Although it was provided for free, many states and countries had issues creating their own customised app and were beleaguered by delays. 
It is hoped this new feature will be less technologically prohibitive and allow for wider uptake, Apple and Google said.   
Instead of building an entire app, the new notification system only requires public health officials to submit a small configuration file to Apple and Google in order for it to work. 
This will ensure all the information a user receives is from healthcare officials and not the tech companies. 
It will include links to websites for official information, the name and logo of the health organisation and the words a user will see.   
Apple and Google said in a joint statement: 'As the next step in our work with public health authorities on Exposure Notifications, we are making it easier and faster for them to use the Exposure Notifications System without the need for them to build and maintain an app. 
'Exposure Notifications Express provides another option for public health authorities to supplement their existing contact tracing operations with technology without compromising on the project's core tenets of user privacy and security. 
'Existing apps using the Exposure Notification API will be compatible with Exposure Notifications Express, and we are committed to supporting public health authorities that have deployed or are building custom apps.'

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