Keeping privacy while using Android COVID-19 contact tracer

Preview of the Android COVID-19 app is now available.  It appears to have a feature for those with privacy issues.

Following Google’s confirmation that it is working on a COVID-19 Android contact tracer app, privacy watchdogs have raised concerned over this privacy and security issues. It appears that Google have been listening, as a preview of its upcoming contact tracer have these features.

Contact tracing using Android

In the first phase of the rollout, Google is not developing an actual app or a feature built into its operating system. Instead, Google is developing an API which it plans distribute to government institutions. These institutions will be the one responsible for building their own app.

Google plans to rollout this API for Android in May. The tech giant says that it will only release the API exclusively to government institutions.

The second phase of the rollout will now involve the public. In this phase, Google will develop a feature for its Android operating system. This feature will allow the public to opt-in whether they want to join the company’s contact tracing program.

If users decide to join turn on the feature, the phone will broadcast anonymous identifiers which other phones can receive. If a positive case is detected, all phones within the immediate surrounding will receive an alert.

Google is planning to use its official Android marketplace, Google Play, for the rollout. This is advantageous to many users as it will not require a full update of the operating system. Contact tracing for the platform will be available for devices running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or newer versions.

Keeping privacy while contact tracing

Once the Phase 1 rollout is complete, users can check their phone preferences if they want to receive notifications. Users can access this from the new “COVID-19 Exposure Notification” section under the Settings tab.

Under the new menu, there is a list for “Exposure Notification sent from” which opens the health agency app that is downloaded on the phone. There is also a new “Exposure checks” tab which shows the number of conducted check in the past 14 days.

Google says that for the feature to work, users have to turn on device locations for the smartphone to connect to other devices using Bluetooth. However, the tech giant added that, that its Android contact tracing app does not collect or use GPS data in order to preserve user privacy.

Image courtesy of LOLIONI/Unsplash

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