Social media is abuzz with viral messages alleging that both Google and Apple have secretly installed a COVID-19 tracing app into phones without people’s knowledge.
Forwarded message alleges that phones running either on Android and iOS have had the app “inserted into every phone”.
And while at first glance this looks to be the case when you check under your Google account on your phone, the truth is far more benign.
What has been added on phones running both Android and iOS, two of the most common operating systems on phones today, is the new COVID 19 Exposure Notification API that both Google and Apple have been working on since the start of the pandemic.
The API by itself doesn’t do anything without an accompanying app. The COVID 19 Exposure Notification API is simply a framework that allows a contact tracing app to utilize a phone’s features (namely the phone’s Bluetooth radio) for it to work.
In fact, COVID 19 Exposure Notification API requires users to manually opt-in before it can be used on your device and for it to interface with your Bluetooth radio.
The tech giants joined forces at the start of the pandemic to jointly develop an API that would help developers create contact tracing apps for governments to notify people if they come into close contact or close proximity to someone who is infected with COVID-19.
The Philippines already has a contact tracing app in the form of StaySafe.ph, though the rollout of the COVID 19 Exposure Notification API will allow its developers to seamlessly integrate its Bluetooth functionality (which is the primary method for contact tracing) to phones running either Android or iOS.
The COVID-19 Exposure API in theory uses random IDs to identify users, which are automatically deleted within 14 days to protect privacy.
If a user is positively identified as a COVID-19 carrier, he/she can share their randomized IDs with whatever contact tracing app they utilized so other users can be notified anonymously if they had extended or close contact with him/her during the usual 14-day exposure time.