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The COVID-19 feature: Is there an unwelcome tracking application in your device?

There has been a flood of new applications during the Coronavirus pandemic. However, one of the innovations (i.e. the Apple-Google Contact Tracing Plan) has called for privacy concerns and the newer exposure to COVID-19 logging is unsettling to many. However, other half of the world has discovered the tool has already been in place and has been used by the governments (as well as tech companies) to keep a track on people’s health.

What is this application Apple-Google Contact Tracing Plan all about?

Apple and Google rarely work together, however, because of this pandemic solely they formed a partnership enabling contact tracing API to limit the spread of coronavirus. Few misconceptions have limited the views of the “real rationale” for the development of such applications, these are presented in the next paragraph.

Let’s arrange the facts behind the pantomime:

  • Social media has created buzzing complaints from individuals that the update has not been authorized and has been updated without permission.
  • The “track and trace” rant took over the internet like a gazing fire. This application has been downloaded automatically under COVID-19 exposure notifications.

Facts: Privacy Nightmare or COVID-19 Panacea?

The claim that the application has been downloaded “on its own” is false and the Exposure Notification API has been added to both devices – Android and iPhone. It is wrong to label this underlying developed technology as an application. In fact, this underlying technology has allowed the creation of a coronavirus tracking application which is needed by the health professionals.

Fast Forward: Google and Apple have also suggested to work on the creation of an environment that operates without the application need. They, however, are unclear of how it will work in the current capacity.

Learning point: Based on the fact, we have learned that neither Google nor Apple have uploaded the application without the explicit permission, ensuring that no automatic installation has taken place.

How can I turn on or off this update?

For Android: There is an entry in the settings section at the top of Android phone that states “COVID-19 exposure notifications.” Or you have to tap on Google and then onto the option COVID-19 Exposure Notifications. You will gradually see a lot of ways about how this tracking feature works. You will then see two settings that need your intervention to install the app compatible to your device. In other words, once you click it in your settings panel, you will be given an option that takes you to a screen detailing the need to install and finish the setting up to a level unless the activation to exposure notification has been made. One of the options is to delete the ID’s (random in nature) that your device has actually collected. The other salient feature is to turn off this feature entirely. The picture referenced below shows how the image looks in the Google Play Store section.

google application
google support

For the iPhone, this notably altered and improved the face recognition features, while fixing bugs. The settings can be installed by going to General > Software Update. Once the update has been done, the Face ID will promptly display your PIN in case of inability to recognize. Recently it has been an issue that Face ID keeps displaying PIN multiple times when it fails recognizing your face, especially when you are wearing masks in public.

apple google app
Apple/Google

This feature is also part of iOS 13.5 and you can find the feature by tapping on Settings > Privacy > Health > Covid-19 Exposure Logging. This provides you alert based on the recent (14-days based) contacts and based on these contacts there is a possibility that you could test positive for coronavirus. You can toggle this on or off. In order to get rid of the random IDs within your phone storage, you have to just click the Delete Exposure Log option, which can be seen at the bottom of the page.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’m concerned about my privacy; will it breach privacy concerns?

A.   There are privacy concerns, however, most countries are adopting this and are placing health concerns above privacy concerns. The concerns have been raised that the data must be limited to healthcare professionals/ agencies and anonymity has to be respected, yet protected, while using the information.

This statement is important – “Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders,” the companies (Google & Apple) said in an April joint statement announcing the partnership. “We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze.”

Will this application drain my battery?

A.   There are concerns that Bluetooth is not accurate and not everyone uses it. On the other hand, Bluetooth drains the battery. Location details can be fetched from other sources such as GPs and cell towers, other than Bluetooth. GPS is more accurate and gets down to (>5 and to 20 meters).

What do I have to do to keep this feature working on my device?

A.   You need to have your location and Bluetooth on for this tracking feature. Relax, your actual location is not tracked – the app has nothing to do with how many times you left your home or where in the world you are. The rationale of the app is to know which random ID your device came in contact with, that’s all.

How does the app work?

A.   God forbid, if you are tested positive, this application will record the information and send it to the server through rotating ID’s, this in turn will get other devices notified about the situation. Those who have been in contact with you will be notified via an alert. This will prevent the coronavirus spread as those individuals will start taking test and self-isolation precautions – therefore, ceasing its transmission.

As of now, we are not aware of the number of devices using this app and it varies state-to-state in the USA. For instance, Utah is not interested in the implementation of this collaborative framework and is looking to work on its own tracking app. The steps we have learned from this guide are:

  • We have the choice either to download the application or not,
  • If installed, you have the option to notify those you have been in close proximity to,
  • If you met someone who has contracted COVID-19, your phone will notify you accordingly, please note that this feature will not display the name of the individual who has been tested positive or which location they last visited, the alert is subject to your concern/ risk only,
  • No personal information identified will be accessed by Apple/ Google.