Yes, your iPhone and Android devices have a COVID-19 tracker (sort of) — but here's why you shouldn't worry - AZCentral
Apple and Google announced the platform was coming in April, and it's been widely reported in the technology press. It's not yet active in Arizona.
Yes, your phone might already have a tool to help track COVID-19 on it. No, it's not tracking you in Arizona. Many Arizonans were surprised this week to see that their phones have a COVID-19 tracking tool that came with the latest update of their operating system. The tool, though, isn't yet being used in Arizona. It would require the Department of Health Services to develop an application and submit it to the tech companies for approval. And importantly, users would have to agree to participate. The presence of "COVID-19 Exposure Logging" on phones is unsettling to some nonetheless, as many people have discovered the tool and assumed it was already in use by governments or tech companies to track people's health. Twitter and Facebook are full of references tying the update to Monday's cellular outages. It wasn't related. If you have the tool on your phone, it came from the latest operating system download you approved. Facebook has even screened some of the references, indicating they have been fact checked and are partly false. But many other references remain, many encouraging people not to turn the notifications on. To see if the tool is on an Android device, go to "Settings" and then "Google Settings." To see if the tool is on an iPhone, go to "Settings" and then "Privacy" and then "Health." Apple and Google actually announced the platform was coming in April, and it's been widely reported in the technology press such as Wired. "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 said in an April joint statement announcing the partnership. "We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze." How would it work? If a health department wanted to develop an app for people to allow contract tracing, the platform from Google and Apple would ensure it worked on all phones running those operating systems. An app would use Bluetooth signals to indicate when two people, or at least their phones, are near one another. It could store the data for 14 days, the maximum time it seems to take people to get sick when exposed to the new coronavirus. If a person using the app tests positive for COVID-19, that person could notify the app, which could then notify those people who had spent enough time near the infected person to warrant concern. A health department could give them instructions on how to prevent spreading the virus to others or seeking treatment, if needed. Google and Apple explain how a contact tracing app could use the platform they developed together. (Photo: Google/Apple) Google and Apple explain how a contact tracing app could use the platform they developed together. (Photo: Google/Apple) The companies further explained the platform when it was released in May for public health agencies to use if they wanted. "What weve built is not an app rather public health agencies will incorporate the (application programming interface) into their own apps that people install," the companies said, explaining that the partnership is intended to make public apps for contact tracing work better. "Each user gets to decide whether or not to opt-in to Exposure Notifications," they said. "The system does not collect or use location from the device; and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to report that in the public health app. User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage use of these apps." The Arizona Department of Health Services on Friday declined to respond regarding whether the agency had any intention of developing an app that could use the platform. Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina are working to use the companies' technology, and Apple and Google reported that 22 other nations have show interest. Tech experts say not to worry Despite the announcements the platform was coming, finding it embedded on phones seems to have given the effort new reality for consumers, even if it's not in use. Phil Simon, a technology expert, author, speaker and advisor who lives in Arizona, said the distrust of tech companies is not unexpected, and neither is the social media storm of misinformation that ensued. "Outrage sells more than facts," Simon said Friday. "Studies have indicated people share fake news more than they share facts." He said the propensity to distrust technology companies stems from instances where those companies or their employees have acted in bad faith, but the contact tracing platform doesn't concern him, and he doesn't think they are doing it as a way to generate revenue. "They are agreeing this is a way to potentially limit its spread," he said. "Their motives, I think, are benign." "I'm OK with a little information sharing if it's going to keep me alive and keep me from spreading disease to people," Simon said. If states do deploy apps to help with contact tracing, building trust and getting people to participate will be important, he said. "These apps benefit from the network effect," he said. "The more people that use it, the better it is." Ken Colburn, founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services in Arizona, recently wrote about the platform, noting that some of the shortcomings could be people traveling between states needing to use separate apps, and health agencies confirming positive cases before alerting potential contacts. But he, too, said the presence of the platform on phones is not a concern. "For the time being, theres nothing to be concerned about if your smartphone has the 'Exposure Notification' option as you are in total control," Colburn said. "Despite what you may be seeing from outraged social media posts, neither company is automatically tracking your movements or forcing your device to engage in contact tracing." Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at [email protected] or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter. Subscribe to azcentral.com today. Read or Share this story: https://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/consumers/2020/06/20/arizona-coronavirus-tracker-iphone-ios-android/3225935001/