Google, Apple introduce Exposure Notifications Express to boost participation in COVID-19 contact tracing
Exposure Notifications System is a framework developed jointly by Google and Apple that consists of an iOS and Android API and a Bluetooth Low Energy spec with the goal being to empower public health agencies to develop power-efficient and secure COVID-19 contact tracing apps. Introduced a few months back, ENS is designed to allow you to know if you’ve been exposed to someone who has self-reported a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. The Google/Apple framework is now used by several countries and recently received a few privacy-focused improvements. But it’s still very limited in that public health agencies need to actually develop an app using the API in order for its citizens to participate in contact tracing. This barrier to entry has impeded the efforts of the medical community in implementing contact tracing at a scale necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19. To tackle this problem, Google and Apple are introducing a new framework called Exposure Notifications Express (via Axios).
Exposure Notifications Express lets public health authorities set up COVID-19 contact tracing systems without having to develop a full-blown app of their own. Health agencies submit a configuration to Apple and Google with information such as how and when an exposure notification should be triggered and the next steps that users should take after they get an alert. Android users will then receive a notification alerting them to download a wrapper app created by Google from the Google Play Store. The new Express system will coexist with existing apps using ENS.
These “express” notifications are primarily meant to boost participation of COVID-19 contact tracing in the United States, although other parts of the world may also benefit from it as some countries that have already launched apps using this framework have struggled to convince their citizens to participate. The U.S. in particular has dragged its feet at rolling out COVID-19 contact tracing apps, so this will hopefully increase participation in contact tracing among U.S. states. So far, 25 U.S. states and territories are exploring digital contact tracing options while only 6 have actually launched apps.
With the privileged access that Google and Apple have over Android and iOS respectively, the companies can roll out features like this much more quickly to users. According to 9to5Google, Exposure Notifications Express is available in iOS 13.7 starting today and launches later this month for Android 6.0+. In the U.S., Washington DC, Mayland, Nevada, and Virginia will be first to adopt the system.