Apple, Google Address Privacy Concerns Around COVID-19 Tracing On Mobile

The Australian Government on Sunday officially launched its Contact Tracing app, COVIDSafe, using the software based on the Singapore Ministry of Health and Government Technology Agency’s TraceTogether software.

The software relies on Bluetooth signals to log when people have been in close contact to one another and stores 21 days of data, for people the phone has come into content with.

Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the software this weekend and said it is available to download onto smartphones running Android and iOS.

The app is stores 21 days of data, people the phone has come into content with.

While Australia is the first government to test the app from the Ministry of Health, Apple and Google plan to release their own COVID-19 tracing software in the coming week to other developers.



Last week the two companies said they had strengthened the privacy controls by using random keys that trace the virus.

The system also encrypts the Bluetooth data to make it more difficult to identify users. Developers who create apps using the software will be limited in terms of recording the time that people are exposed to an infected person. The maximum time is 30 minutes.

The companies explain it this way: “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.”

Focusing on privacy seems to have attracted other countries. On Sunday, Reuters reported the German government changed course on the type of smartphone technology it will use to trace COVID-19 infections. Chancellery Minister Helge Braun and Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a joint statement Berlin would adopt a decentralized approach and abandon an alternative being developed in the country. 

Under this approach users would opt-in to share their phone number or details of their symptoms. Consent would be given in the app and not part of the system’s central architecture. Germany, as of Friday, backed a central standard called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing.

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