Health app gets COVID-19 contact tracing on iPhone

Apple Google partnership

The upcoming release of iOS 13.5 includes a COVID-19 exposure logging system that is designed to protect user privacy. The system has been developed thanks to a previously announced partnership between Apple and Google, bringing anonymous exposure tracking to iOS and Android devices.

Public health authorities can request permission from Apple to develop apps using the ExposureNotification framework added to iOS 13.5. Apps can only be used for COVID-19 response efforts and are not permitted to access Location Services. Users would have to opt in to participate under Settings -> Health -> COVID-19 Exposure Logging after installing the app.

Once implemented, an anonymous identifier that changes every 15 minutes is exchanged with nearby smartphones via Bluetooth. Someone who tests positive for COVID-19 can send a list of broadcast beacons used in the past two weeks to the cloud for analysis. Anyone who was in close enough proximity to exchange matching broadcast beacons with the infected individual receives a notification.

COVID-19 tracking

The notification tells of possible exposure to someone with COVID-19 and provides next steps, which could include self-quarantine to prevent transmission to others. If your doctor determines that you are now a carrier of COVID-19, notifications can be sent to warn anyone who exchanged broadcast beacons with your iPhone in the past 14 days.

Apple and Google will only allow one contact tracing app to be deployed in each country. To participate, users will have to wait until apps are released and install the correct one for their region. The first phase of the system comes available to developers sometime this month. Later this year, both iOS and Android will receive updates to allow COVID-19 exposure logging without the need for an app.