Apple and Google’s contract-tracing system to ban Location Services access

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New guidelines are meant to help developers create easy-to-understand contact tracing apps.
Photo: Apple/Google

Apple and Google released additional details about their coronavirus contact-tracing system Monday, informing public health officials that they will not be able to use Location Services to track people. The companies also said they will limit use of the contact-tracing API to one per country.

Both companies also showed off what an app might look like on people’s smartphones — and shared sample pieces of code local governments could use in their own mobile apps.

Apple representatives explained repeatedly that applications should center on protecting app users’ privacy and collect as little data as possible. That includes official word that the API and app will not be able to use the Location Services framework. Additionally, Apple said it will bar advertising from contact-tracing apps.

The companies said that to promote adoption worldwide, they will limit use of the Exposure Notification API to one app per country. The limit should reduce decentralization and increase adoption. However, the companies said they will remain flexible to work with countries that take state or regional approaches.

Apple and Google also said they will continue to release updates on a regular basis to their software and SDK.

In the long term, the companies said they are exploring the possibility of allowing health authorities to send exposure notifications without requiring an app.

Sample code released as guidelines

Apple and Google also released sample app code, which can be used in the development of contact-tracing applications, in addition to design concepts.

The sample code illustrates good design practices for developers building exposure-notification applications. The materials also show how to walk users through the process of reporting that they tested positive for the coronavirus. For instance, the screens could explain why someone might want to share their results.

Various screenshots also show how apps should present exposure results and how users can manage exposure notifications. The user interface includes a window for users testing positive for COVID-19 to confirm their diagnosis.

iOS 13.5 details

Last week, Apple seeded the third beta of iOS 13.5 and Xcode 11.5 with the code needed to run apps built using the Exposure Notifications API. Apple is targeting mid-May for a public release of the software update.

iOS 13.5 will include a new menu under Settings > Health > COVID-19 Exposure Logging showing which public health apps are using the joint Apple/Google technology. Settings also will indicate the number of times that a user’s exposure results have been checked in a 14-day period.