Apple, Google Introduce Privacy and Accuracy Related Changes to Upcoming COVID-19 Exposure Notification App

Recently Apple and Google announced that they are jointly working on a COVID-19 contact tracing app. Many were concerned about privacy and raised several questions. Now Apple and Google have announced new features with a focus on privacy protections and accuracy. Apple and Google are now calling the “contract tracing” app as “exposure notification.” Renaming the app is expected to help Apple convey the purpose of the new app in a better way.

Security Features

The new contact tracing app will use randomly generated keys rather than the ones obtained from a temporary tracing. With this in place, it becomes difficult for someone to deduce the key mechanism and use private information. Furthermore, Bluetooth metadata will be encrypted and this will help in masking users’ identity.

Features that Help Improve Accuracy 

The Exposure Notification app will record exposure time once every five minutes. It will help in increasing the accuracy of the app. API will now include Bluetooth signal strength when data is exchanged between the devices. The feature will also help in accurately measuring the distance between two phones when the contact was made.

The API will also show duration thresholds for exposure events. The app will make a switch to the AES encryption algorithm as opposed to HMAC. A majority of devices come equipped with hardware for AES encryption which will help improve the performance.

Both the companies will introduce new changes as and when required. The new Exposure Notification app is slated to be launched next week across iOS and Android devices in a beta form. As far as support goes, all the iOS devices released in the last four years will be able to run the app. It is worth noting that third-party contact tracing apps have difficulty with iOS since it doesn’t allow apps to use Bluetooth in the background. In fact, the French government asked Apple to remove Bluetooth restriction on iOS as it was coming in way of an app the government wanted to build.

Will you opt into new Exposure Notification system once it is released? Share your thoughts in the comments below.