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Apple officially released iOS 13.5 to the public this week. The update includes changes such as Face ID improvements for masks, new Apple Music features, and more. Perhaps most importantly, however, the update brings the first version of the Exposure Notification API developed by Apple and Google. Here’s how that feature works, while also preserving your privacy.
When a user enables the feature and has an app from a public health authority installed, the device will regularly send out a beacon via Bluetooth that includes a random Bluetooth identifier. When two people are near each other, their phones will exchange and record these Bluetooth identifiers.
If someone tests positive for COVID-19, they can voluntarily report the positive test to the Exposure Notification application for their region. These screenshots show public health authority developers how to walk users through the process of reporting that they tested positive for coronavirus, including a unique test identifier:
The Exposure Notification API will also likewise download a list of the keys for the beacons that have been verified as belonging to people confirmed positive for COVID-19, and check against that list. If there is a match, the user may be notified and advised on the next steps. What constitutes as an exposure? This is up to the public health agencies to decide, but the API itself includes a minimum of 5 minutes of interaction for it to be considered a match.
Think of it like this: Person A and Person B spend more than 5 minutes together at a restaurant. During this time, their smartphones exchange the anonymous Bluetooth identifier. They go their separate ways, but Person A tests positive for COVID-19 a few days later and chooses to report that positive test via the Exposure Notification app. Person B will then receive a notification saying that someone they recently interacted with has tested positive for COVID-19.
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