COVID-19 Exposure Logging and Your iPhone

*Update* 9/1/2020- iOS 13.7 is now available.

A few months ago the internet freaked out that Apple and Google quietly installed a COVID-19 tracker onto their phones. Yes, during an update, Apple and Google added an Exposure Logging setting on the phone. At the time, your local public health authority would have needed to create an app that would work with this setting. Without it, you could not turn it on. You can view it on your iPhone by going to Settings > Privacy> Health> COVID-19 Exposure Logging.

Also at that time, there was a lot of fake news being spread around and I felt the need to correctly inform people. I should have written about it then but I didn’t. So with a new update coming soon, I felt compelled to make sure everyone understood what this meant for you.

Today, Apple released a Developer Beta of iOS 13.7. This update is only available to developers until it is released to the public. The release date to the public is unknown at this time.

With this second phase of Exposure Logging, an app is not required for you to turn on this setting. This update makes it easier to determine whether or not your region has an app available for you to use. This is Opt-in, not Opt-out. What that means is when you download this update you have to turn it on for it to work. So have no fear, nothing is done without your permission.

How this will work if you turn it on:

Once enabled, users’ devices will regularly send out a beacon via Bluetooth that includes a random Bluetooth identifier — basically, a string of random numbers that aren’t tied to a user’s identity and change every 10-20 minutes for additional protection. Other phones will be listening for these beacons and broadcasting theirs as well. When each phone receives another beacon, it will record and securely store that beacon on the device.

At least once per day, the system will download a list of the keys for the beacons that have been verified as belonging to people confirmed as positive for COVID-19. Each device will check the list of beacons it has recorded against the list downloaded from the server. If there is a match between the beacons stored on the device and the positive diagnosis list, the user may be notified and advised on steps to take next. – Apple

With the iOS 13.7 update and the second phase of Exposure Logging:

If a match is detected the user will be notified, and if the user has not already downloaded an official public health authority app they will be prompted to download an official app and advised on next steps. Only public health authorities will have access to this technology and their apps must meet specific criteria around privacy, security, and data control. – Apple

Be aware that Apple or Google will not have your personal information. Your public health authority will only have your data if you report it to them. Finally, your data is not being monetized.

Those are the facts. Here are my personal thoughts.

We all have a right to privacy and thankfully this is in our hands to turn on or remain off. Contact tracing is already being performed by humans and it is not as efficient as it could be.

Using this technology is going to be a lot faster and more functional than the contact tracing that is currently being performed. Regardless of what you think about large tech companies and privacy, I am thankful for the effort they are putting in to slow this virus.

As always, anything we put onto the internet could be used by the bad guys. But I have a lot more trust in companies who have been doing this for decades over an underfunded government. Always remember, the choice is yours.

If you have questions please reach out. I’m still learning but I want us to have correct information, not fake news.

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