Khamosh Pathak is a freelance technology writer who specializes in tutorials. His work has also been published on Lifehacker, iPhoneHacks, Zapier’s blog, MakeUseOf, and Guiding Tech. Khamosh has nearly a decade of experience writing how-tos, features and technology guides on the internet. Read more.
Apple and Google have created a new digital framework for contact tracing for the COVID-19 pandemic that works around an Exposure Notifications API. Apple is rolling out an Exposure Notifications feature and API in the iOS 13.5 update for iPhone. But what exactly does it do?
Exposure Notifications API Takes Privacy-First Approach
Apple has introduced the Exposure Notifications API for public health organizations. The feature is built into iOS 13.5, but it’s not enabled by default. Even after it’s enabled, you’ll need to use an app from public health authorities to utilize the data.
That is, until later in 2020. In phase two, Apple plans to integrate the contact tracing feature directly into iOS and the iPhone.
The API is designed with privacy and security in mind. Apple will approve of its usage individually, and it’s only available for public health organizations. The entire feature, from the API to the notifications, is not mandatory. You will have to opt-in and enable the feature.
As Apple is doing this securely, it works only using Bluetooth LE beacons. The company is not going to use GPS to track your location. Apple won’t be monitoring anyone’s location or transmitting personal data to public health officials.
How Exposure Notifications Work
Once the user has enabled the Exposure Notification feature and opted-in to the program using a supported app, the iPhone will regularly send out a beacon via Bluetooth. This beacon includes a random Bluetooth identifier, which is a string of random numbers (not tied to any of your personal data).
These numbers change every 10 to 20 minutes to further protect your privacy.
According to Apple, at least once a day, your iPhone will download a list of keys for the verified beacons belonging to those who have been confirmed as COVID-19 positive. Your iPhone will then check your local copy of exchanged beacons against the list downloaded from the server.
If there’s a match, you’ll be notified about it, and your app will advise you on what to do next.
Here’s a hypothetical scenario to help you understand the process:
- Let’s say Jack went to the park and sat next to Jill (a couple of feet apart, of course). They both have a health app that uses the Exposure Tracking API.
- As both Jack and Jill stayed in the same place for more than 10 minutes, their smartphones exchanged Bluetooth beacons with unique keys.
- A week or so later, Jill is diagnosed with COVID-19. She opens her health app, and using documents from her healthcare provider, submits the proof that she has tested positive for COVID-19.
- Later in the day, Jack’s iPhone downloads a list of all the recent beacons for people who have tested positive for COVID-19. Jack receives a notification that he was in contact with someone who has COVID-19 because of his interaction with Jill at the park.
- All this happens privately; Jack doesn’t know who Jill is or when he crossed paths with someone with the virus. It will only tell Jack when the beacons were exchanged.
- Jack can then follow the app’s guidance on what to do next.
- If Jack then tests positive with COVID-19, he can follow the same steps to alert the people he might have been in contact with.
How to Manage COVID-19 Exposure Notifications on iPhone
You can manage the Exposure Notifications settings from the Settings app on your iPhone. From here, you can turn the feature on or off (it’s disabled by default) and see which app has access to the data.
Open the “Settings” app on your iPhone and go to Privacy > Health > COVID-19 Exposure Logging.
Here, you can tap on the toggle next to “Exposure Logging” to enable the feature. While you’re at it, it might be a good idea to take some time to clean your iPhone and wash your hands.
You can see enabled apps in the “Active App” section. If you choose, you can also delete your exposure log from this screen.
As we said, to use the feature, you’ll have to install an authorized app from your local health authority. This is where you’ll be able to report your COVID-19 status.
When you install an authorized app, it will ask you to enable the Exposure Notifications feature. Tap on “Enable” to turn on the function.
As you can see, Apple and Google’s Exposure Notifications system isn’t a complete replacement for a traditional contact tracing method. But it will aid public health officials in finding people who might have been exposed to the virus in a way that doesn’t share any private information.
Of course, the system is not foolproof, and it won’t always work. For example, if you just walked past across someone who has COVID-19, and your iPhone didn’t have the time to exchange the Bluetooth tokens, you’re out of luck. It’s the same if the person doesn’t have a health tracking app installed.
Joanna Stern’s YouTube video offers a good explainer of how Coronavirus contact tracing apps (which will be built on top of the Exposure Notifications API) will work.
You can also read our in-depth look at contact tracing to find out more about the process.
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Khamosh Pathak is a freelance technology writer who specializes in tutorials. His work has also been published on Lifehacker, iPhoneHacks, Zapier’s blog, MakeUseOf, and Guiding Tech. Khamosh has nearly a decade of experience writing how-tos, features and technology guides on the internet.
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More states are using a feature designed by Apple and Google to notify you of any potential COVID-19 exposures.
Last year, tech giants Apple and Google teamed up to create features that would enable Americans to enroll in digital novel coronavirus contact tracing programs with iPhone and Android devices. But the contact tracing programs have slowly rolled out in states individually across the nation throughout late 2020, and many smartphone users are just now being prompted to sign up for the first time. Apple iOS updates in September, for example, included rollouts for back-end capability for “Exposure Notifications” to most iPhones, per Forbes; depending on where you live, state health departments may already be working in conjunction with these tech giants in your area.
An Apple representative tells Good Housekeeping that participation in states is trending upwards; in California, over 30% of adults have opted into exposure notifications, and in Washington D.C., 53% of the nation capitol’s residents have enabled the program as well. Early data collected by the Alan Turing Institute at Oxford University overseas in England suggests that 600,000 cases have been “prevented by the app” since its launch in September 2020.
But how does the digital contact tracing program work exactly, and what data are tech companies collecting?
The entire system is based on Bluetooth capabilities, across devices made by Apple or Android. People who enroll in digital contact tracing will enable their phones to send out an invisible beacon routinely throughout the day, “a string of random numbers that aren’t tied to a user’s identity” per Apple. If you’re in public, other phones will be listening and trading their beacons with yours, creating a record when two people “cross” each other’s paths, so to speak. This record is only stored for 14 days before it is deleted (and users can manually delete records at any time before that point).
Contact tracing hinges on the fact that both Apple and Android users who have enrolled in the program can, at any point, report that they’ve tested positive for COVID-19. When someone confirms their diagnosis, the program then prompts a notification to be sent to each and every phone that had recently exchanged beacons with this user’s device.
A few key things to understand: “User identity will not be shared with other users, Apple or Google as part of this process,” current guidance reads. A notification will share the date and general time of when you personally became exposed, and may even indicate how close a sick individual was to you — mostly, however, the notification will prompt you to monitor for any symptoms, isolate and to receive testing if possible.
On the other end, a positive COVID-19 diagnosis from a doctor or testing clinic can’t be automatically added to said person’s device; it requires that the user manually enter a form of confirmation willingly.
Participating in digital COVID-19 tracing is entirely optional: Users must enroll their device in the program before their phone can start logging nearby devices. And since privacy can obviously be a concern, both Apple and Google have also made it easy to stop participating in the program with the tap of a few buttons. Below, we’re recapping how you can enable and disable exposure notifications, and what you can expect from participating as a whole.
How to enable COVID-19 exposure notifications on your phone:
If you’re an iPhone user, your state’s health department may be involved in pushing a notification to your device to indicate that exposure notifications are now available in your area. But in other states, the capability may be available on your device without you knowing it.
In any case, you’ll need to do the following to get your phone enrolled in exposure notifications:
- Open Settings, and then navigate down to the Exposure Notifications tab.
- Once there, you’ll need to tap “Turn On Exposure Notifications” and press continue in the pop up menu that appears.
- You’ll then select your country and region or state. At this point, if your state health department has a partnership with Apple (or Google!) to source information from the program, you may be notified as such — or you may be prompted to download a third party application that has been designed for your state specifically.
- A pop up may appear asking for permission to enable “exposure logging and notifications.” Click “Enable,” and your phone will immediately begin tracking (and distributing) beacons to anyone you pass by in public spaces.
For Android devices, you’ll have to download a specific app. You can see the step-by-step instructions here.
If your state has its own mobile app designed for COVID-19 contact tracing, it’s important to download it and enable notifications as well. For those living in California, for example, the state’s CA Notify application can be the direct service to notify you about any exposures to COVID-19 — not Apple or Android operating systems alone. You should check your state’s health department web portal to ensure it doesn’t maintain its own COVID-19 digital contact tracing program or application.
Does COVID-19 contract tracing keep my information secure?
Engineers at the two tech companies have gone to great lengths to ensure anonymity for anyone involved in the program. Here are all the ways in which information is protected, according to Apple:
- While beacons are tracked, location data is not shared with any state health authority, Apple, or Google on the back end. You aren’t creating a “map” of your daily movements.
- The Bluetooth beacons are randomized every 20 minutes, which helps prevent tracking of any sort by others.
- Notifications will only remain on the phone that you enroll; they won’t be shared with any other Apple device under the same Apple ID, for example.
- The data generated by beacons is kept directly on the phone until a user manually indicates they’ve tested positive for COVID-19, or if another person who you’ve come in contact with has indicated they’ve tested positive.
- The system is only used to assist public health authorities and not for other proprietary uses. “There will be no monetization from this project by Apple or Google,” guidance reads.
- Google and Apple will automatically disable contact tracing programs in regions when it isn’t needed any longer, per direction from local health authorities.
Apple and Google joined their hands to bring technology for social good, between the COVID-19 pandemic. As we know, governments are taking various ways to track exposure and contact tracing. Such methods use smartphone GPS and Bluetooth. As an extra contribution to such essential steps, Apple and Google develop a COVID-19 exposure feature to iPhone users. It can help you stay safe from exposure to the Coronavirus.
This article will guide you on how to enable the COVID-19 exposure notification and tracking feature on your iPhone.
COVID-19 Exposure Logging by Apple and Google
Apple announced a COVID tracking feature for iOS through an update. The update will help governments ease COVID-19 contact tracing and logging. Currently, there are several apps by regional governments in many countries. Such apps use the location data to trace the contact with the patients and to prevent transmission. Yet, security and privacy concern has become a big question mark. In light of such instance, the exposure logging feature from Apple is a big step towards ensuring user data privacy.
The COVID-19 Exposure logging on the iPhone is an API that supports apps. It can generate random anonymous tokens to communicate between devices nearby over Bluetooth. Thus, the exposure logging feature does not put your privacy at risk. Plus, Apple and Google ensure not to use or share your location data. All it needs is your Bluetooth access. Since the API is from Apple and Google together, the feature works between any Android and iOS devices. Thus, it becomes easier for governments to track users through their smartphones.
If you are an iPhone user, you can update to the latest iOS 13.5 rollouts to get the exposure logging feature.
How to Update Your iPhone to iOS 13.5?
In order to get the COVID-19 exposure logging on your iPhone, you need to have the iOS 13.5 update. Do you know which iOS version does your iPhone runs? Follow the steps below to find out your iOS version.
- Open Settings on your iPhone.
- Go to General > About.
- Find the number against “Software Version.”
If it does not say “13.5”, then you should update your iPhone. The update must have already rolled out to your iPhone. Here is how you can download and update your iPhone to the iOS 13.5 release.
- Launch Settings on your iPhone.
- Navigate to General.
- Tap Software Update.
- Tap on Download and Install.
Apart from the COVID-19 exposure notification API, you can get some feature changes too. Most people are wearing masks these days, which makes the Face ID struggle to find your face. Therefore, you will get fast access to the lock screen passcode field now.
Activate COVID-19 Exposure Notification on iPhone
If you already have the iOS 13.5 on your iPhone, you can activate the exposure notification feature. You need an app that works in your region in order to start using the feature. The COVID-19 Exposure Notification is an API that enables the allowed apps to track your exposure to the virus. Governments across the countries are working on their apps to start working with Apple’s COVID-19 tracker API. Some have started rolling out.
For example, if you are in Switzerland, you install and use the app “SwissCovid” app. Having the app on your iPhone enables the COVID-19 exposure tracking. Here is how to activate COVID-19 exposure notification on iPhone if you already have a supported app.
- Open Settings app on your iPhone.
- Tap Privacy.
- Go to Health.
- You will find the option COVID-19 Exposure Logging on top.
- Tap to enable Exposure Logging on your iPhone.
The Exposure Logging feature will be enabled only when you have a supported app on your iPhone. Otherwise, you will have to wait until your government releases a COVID-19 tracking app that integrated Apple’s COVID-19 Exposure Logging API.
Why COVID-19 Tracking on iPhone is Not Available in My Region?
Apple announced the feature to be available worldwide in order to fight such a global pandemic. Although, many users from certain regions are not able to use it. Especially Asian countries including India. Users are not getting the exposure logging feature on their iPhone’s even after updating to the iOS 13.5. This must be due to regional limitations.
So, you have to wait until Apple makes it available for your country.
How to Track COVID-19 Exposure if the Feature is Not Available For You?
Well, the COVID-19 exposure tracking on the iPhone is not a standalone feature. It just allows apps to track your exposure to the virus. Apps can access Bluetooth all the time in the background. So, if the feature is not available in your region, it does not mean you cannot track your coronavirus exposure. Many countries already have standalone COVID tracking apps.
For example, if you are in India, you can install and use the “Aarogya Setu” app commissioned by the government. Similarly, most countries already use their own COVID tracking method through apps.
Disclosure: Mashtips is supported by its audience. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Apple in iOS 13.5 is introducing an exposure notification API designed to allow apps created by public health authorities worldwide to notify people who come into contact with someone who has COVID-19 about their exposure to the virus.
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Apple’s Exposure Notification feature is privacy focused and shares no personally identifiable information or location data with the public health authorities creating the apps, but some users may want to opt out of the feature, which is enabled by default when upgrading to iOS 13.5.
Apple in the iOS 13.5 update added a toggle to disable COVID-19 Exposure Notifications for those who do not want to participate and do not want to be notified should they come into contact with someone who has COVID-19. Here’s how to get to it:
- Open the Settings app.
- Scroll down and tap on Privacy.
- Tap on Health.
- Tap on COVID-19 Exposure Notifications.
- Tap the toggle to turn the feature off.
The purpose of the exposure notification system is to limit the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible by informing people who have been exposed so they can self-isolate and get recommendations from their local health authorities. Because it works by allowing two smartphones to interface with one another using random identifier beacons and Bluetooth, it works best when most people have it turned on.
Re-enabling Exposure Notifications can be done by following the steps above and tapping the toggle to turn the feature back on. If the toggle is green, it’s on, and if the toggle is gray, it’s off.
iOS 13.5 is available in a beta capacity at the current time, and there won’t be apps that take advantage of Exposure Notifications until the update is released. Receiving Exposure Notifications also requires downloading an app from a public health organization that uses the API and agreeing to its terms and conditions. Simply having the toggle turned on won’t do anything without the app.
By Killian Bell • 12:53 pm, December 11, 2020
There’s no good reason not to have exposure notifications enabled.
Image: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac
COVID-19 contact tracing is finally available in California — and in many other states and countries around the world. And if you have an iPhone running iOS 13.7 or later, you can now get an alert whenever you have been exposed to someone carrying the virus.
We’ll show you how to take control of COVID-19 exposure notifications on your device.
Knowing whether you’ve been around someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 is hugely important. That information can help you make better decisions about who you have contact with, protecting your family, friends, colleagues, and anyone else you might see face-to-face.
So it’s a good idea to have exposure notifications enabled. Here’s how to access your notification preferences.
How to enable COVID-19 exposure notifications
- Open the Settings app on your iPhone.
- Tap Exposure Notifications.
- Tap Turn on Exposure Notifications.
- Hit Continue, then select your country.
- Select your state or region if necessary.
Continue to follow the prompts until setup is complete. If your country or region has its own contact tracing app, you will be prompted to download it from the App Store.
How to disable COVID-19 exposure notifications
To disable exposure notifications on iPhone, simple follow the same steps above but at step three, select Turn Off Exposure Notifications.
You can also delete your exposure logs by tapping Exposure Logging Status, and then selecting Delete Exposure Log. This will remove all logging information from your iPhone permanently.
Apple is keen to insist that enabling exposure notifications won’t impact your privacy. The system uses completely random keys, which change at least once every 24 hours, that cannot be used to identify you.
COVID-19 Exposure Logging can be accessed by iPhone and Android users through the "settings" section of both phones.
The features allow for contact tracing when the connecting phone apps are downloaded.
To access the COVID logging feature on iPhones, users must go under "settings," then click on "privacy," and lastly "health."
Android users can reportedly access the secretive feature by clicking "settings," then google, and then "settings" again.
According to the feature: "When enabled, iPhone can exchange random IDs with other devices using bluetooth.
"This enables an app to notify you if you may have been exposed to COVID-19."
It also informs users that Exposure Logging is unable to access any data or add data to the Health app.
Anyone with an iPhone who is unable to see the feature should complete the latest iOS 13.5.1software update and try again.
The feature, which allows users to opt-in or out, explains: "You cannot turn on Exposure Logging without an authorized app installed that can send Exposure Notifications.
"When enabled iPhone can exchange random IDs with other devices using Bluetooth.
"The random IDs your device collects are stored in an exposure log for 14 days. This exposure log allows an app you authorize to notify you if you may have been exposed to COVID-19.
"If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 you can choose to share your own device’s random IDs with the authorized app so it can notify others anonymously."
One Twitter user slammed the feature, saying: "There is surely a world of difference between voluntarily downloading a tracing app and having it thrown at you without your say-so. Orwellian."
According to the DailyMail, iPhone and Android users in both the United States and the United Kingdom have obtained the software without having a government tracing app available for download.
People living in Germany were able to download the government-backed app – but said it drained their phone battery, the DailyMail reported.
Despite some fears of the technology tracking users, the setting option allows the app to be turned off completely, if one doesn't choose to use it.
Users have the option to decide whether or not they want to download the app connected the Exposure Logging.
Back in April, Facebook started offering some users a Covid-19 symptom tracker survey.
This voluntary survey appears at the top of the Facebook app news feed and aims to identify coronavirus hotspots.
Facebook explained on its blog: "As part of Facebook’s Data for Good program, we offer maps on population movement that researchers and nonprofits are already using to understand the coronavirus crisis, using aggregated data to protect people’s privacy.
"We heard from them how valuable this information can be in responding to COVID-19, and today we’re announcing new tools to support their work."
Apple is turning the iPhone into a tool to help fight the coronavirus. In addition to rolling out an update in iOS 13.5 that makes it easier to log in to your phone when wearing a face mask, the new software includes a feature that could notify you of possible exposure to COVID-19.
COVID-19 exposure notifications use Bluetooth technology and contact tracing from authorized public health apps. The aim is to alert users who may have been exposed to the coronavirus via a notification.
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Keep in mind that in order to use COVID-19 exposure notifications, you will need to also download a public health app that supports Apple’s contact tracing. Three US states — Alabama, South Carolina and North Dakota — have said they will participate in using the contact tracing API from Apple and Google. Other health agencies in other locations will get access in the coming weeks.
However, it’s up for participating health authorities to create a contact tracing app that taps into the exposure notifications APIs. At the time of writing, no apps are currently ready. But by setting your iPhone up for exposure logging you can be ready for when the apps arrive.
How to active COVID-19 exposure logging on your iPhone
Once you’ve downloaded and installed iOS 13.5, here are the steps for activating COVID-19 exposure notifications.
Apple and Google have been working for the last few months to build a standard that can assist with CovidI-19 exposure notification. As the technology has started to roll out to devices, a lot of people who may not have been paying attention are suddenly wondering why they now have a setting for “COVID-19 Exposure Logging,” and whether that means that their iPhone is tracking them.
There is, understandably, some understandable confusion about what exactly that setting means, and whether it’s a problem that Apple would add such a feature even without users asking for it.
I want to break down what it actually means, but let me start with this: The only thing that has changed is that the most recent versions of iOS (13.5 and later) and Android have made it possible for app developers to leverage Bluetooth technology to share encrypted keys that can be used for exposure notification.
[Tracing keys] are generated randomly on the device, transmitted by Bluetooth beacons, and stored only on the device. Only the key associated with a device that tested positive is uploaded to the server for the health organization, and those are then downloaded to be compared locally on user devices. The tracing keys are randomly generated every 10-20 minutes to further prevent individual user tracking.
Those keys are also using AES encryption, which prevents someone from intercepting personal information that could be used to identify the device or individual. Apple and Google also indicated that the keys don’t include location information, which provides another layer of privacy protection.
The important information is that no personal data about you or your device is uploaded with they key, and the server doesn’t store those keys, or even do the matching. All of that happens at the device level. And even the information that is transmitted only occurs after a verified positive test for Covid-19.
The reason this is so important is that it makes it possible for people who may have come in prolonged contact for with someone who tests positive to be notified of that potential exposure and then get tested themselves.
As restaurants, offices, book stores, and schools start to reopen, there’s obviously a greater chance that any of us may be exposed to that very situation. Apple and Google recognized early on that creating a common standard that would allow iOS and Android devices to share keys via Bluetooth would give public health organizations a powerful tool in fighting the spread of the pandemic.
At the same time, both tech companies realized that the tool would only be useful if people actually use it. That only happens if users are sure that their privacy is being protected and that their sensitive health information isn’t being collected by Apple or Google, or that it isn’t being stored on a central server–especially one that the government could access.
In iOS 13.5 or later, this particular setting is located at Settings > Privacy > Health. There you’ll find COVID-19 Exposure Logging right at the top. By default this is turned off.
If you tap on the setting, you’ll find that you can’t even turn on the technology without installing an authorized app. Apple and Google have said they will only work with official public health organizations who develop apps.
If you’ve downloaded an authorized app, you’ll see it listed on that page. You can also confirm whether any requests have been made to check your exposure log by tapping on Exposure Checks.
While it has caught some people off guard, the setting option is actually an additional layer of privacy protection. Not only can you avoid downloading an app, even if you do you can still turn the whole thing off altogether.
Apple and Google have teamed up to create a system that notifies cellphone users when they’ve been exposed to a COVID-19 patient.
The system aims to help public health officials slow the spread of the coronavirus by limiting the amount of time infected people who don’t have symptoms can unknowingly spread the virus.
iPhone and Android users must opt in to the feature, and personal information like location data will not be shared.
Only a few states have said they will use the technology.
You may have noticed there are new settings on your phone for tracking COVID-19. What’s that all about?
Not an unauthorized surveillance plot, as one popular social media rumor suggests.
“Remember a few days ago when everyones phone was acting crazy?” reads a June 24 Facebook post, which is a screenshot of a comment on a live video. “Well they put a covid tracker on every phone. Go look its there on your phone right now.”
This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) Similar claims have been shared widely by other Facebook and Instagram users, including a rapper with more than 420,000 followers.
Having a health tracker installed on every Android and iOS device may sound invasive, so we wanted to investigate.
(Screenshot from Facebook)
We’re not sure what the Facebook post means when it says phones were “acting crazy,” but Snopes reported that a network outage June 15 affected primarily T-Mobile customers.
While there are settings on your iPhone for “COVID-19 Exposure Logging,” you must opt in to the feature, which is aimed at helping contact tracers slow the spread of the coronavirus. Few states have said they will use the technology, which comes with a slew of privacy restrictions.
Apple and Google have created technology to help public health officials. But the subtext of the Facebook post — that the companies are tracking users without their knowledge — is inaccurate.
In April, Apple and Google announced they were building a tracking system for iOS and Android mobile operating systems. The feature, samples of which were released in early May, uses Bluetooth Low Energy signals to automatically send users notifications when they have come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and who has also enabled the technology. Apple rolled out the new settings with iOS 13.5 on May 20.
The feature would work like this:
Say you’re diagnosed with COVID-19. You have a contact tracing app from your local public health department on your phone, so you report your diagnosis. Then, with your consent, the app uses your phone’s Bluetooth data to find other cellphone users you’ve been in contact with over the past 14 days (which is how long people could spread the virus without showing symptoms). Finally, if those people have consented to using the technology, the system notifies them that they were potentially exposed to the coronavirus.
(Screenshot from Google)
The tracking system is aimed at helping public health officials conduct contact tracing, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is a key part of reopening the country.