Apple and Google give devs a first look at their COVID-19 tracking API

Devindra Hardawar
Senior Editor
Apple Google

Just as we expected, Apple and Google aren’t wasting any time getting developers ready for their coronavirus tracking collaboration. Today, the companies announced that they’re seeding the first versions of their COVID-19 exposure API to devs working together with public health authorities. It’s sort of like a beta release, which will hopefully let developers kick the tires and prepare for the API’s full release in mid-May.

The two companies have already detailed their privacy measures for the pandemic tracking API. Most importantly, they plan to encrypt Bluetooth metadata. They’re also implementing policies like generating smartphone keys randomly every day, so you can’t easily be associated with a single device. Additionally, they say the API will only be able to track contact with others for 30 minutes at most, and that transmission risk level will only be calculated on users’

“In response to feedback from PHAs [public health authorities], in this update, the companies are giving them the ability to define and calculate a transmission risk level that they can choose to assign to users in the event they’re notified they’ve been exposed to a person who tested positive for COVID-19,” a Google spokesperson wrote in a statement. “Reflecting the reality that not all exposures are equal in nature, the transmission risk level will allow PHAs to evaluate a potential exposure based on characteristics they have gathered about individuals who tested positive and known information such as the approximate distance and duration. Based on this level, developers will also be able to alter their notification messaging to make it more useful and informative.“

Apple and Google plan to release more information about the tracking API on Friday, along with code to help developers understand exactly how the notification system works.