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Google and Apple preview how contact tracing apps will work [Gallery]

The first stage of Google and Apple’s exposure notification effort is coming later this month. It starts with an iOS and Android API that lets health agencies build contact tracing apps, with the two companies today previewing the experience and providing sample code to aid development.

Google last week privately released a beta version of Google Play services — which will be used to distribute the underlying API on Android devices — and SDK to select developers. This helps kickstart the development process, with the two companies today previewing what contact tracking apps could look like.

The app welcome process explains what COVID-19 exposure notifications are — emphasizing how the random IDs generated “won’t identify you to other users” — and prompts you to turn on alerts.

Once set-up, there’s a three-tab layout, with “Exposures” listing possible dates you’ve been in contact with somebody that’s been diagnosed with COVID-19. At this stage, it’s up to your national/local health agency to provide “Next steps,” like seeking treatment or self-isolating.

The “Notify others” tab lets you “Share your positive test result.” The verification process will differ from locality-to-locality but essentially involves entering a unique test identifier that verifies your result. This string of digits/letters or QR code is meant to prevent malicious parties from gaming the system.

A Settings section rounds out this app, with users at any time able to disable their phone pinging nearby devices and exposure notifications.

Since it’s up to public health authorities to develop apps — until Android and iOS integrate the functionality natively at a later date, Apple and Google released sample app code to aid development. Health agencies can tweak the design, add their own language, and resources, but the experience will be more or less consistent.

The two companies today also announced principles that app developers must abide by. This includes how only government agencies that normally perform in-person contact tracing can create and release apps. There can only be one app per country unless authorities opt for a regional/state approach.

Additionally, the app must be explicit and require confirmation at every step. Apps are prohibited from requesting location access, while only minimal user data can be collected — with targeted advertising not allowed.

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Avatar for Abner Li Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: