IPhones and Android devices contain ever-changing anonymous codes that ping nearby phones via Bluetooth – a process that begins when a user chooses to receive notifications.
For exposure notifications to be effective, Android users must turn on Bluetooth and download their state’s Covid-19 notification app. On iPhones, the system is already turned on in settings, although users need to display exposure notifications and make sure availability alerts are turned on.
When someone who uses this feature proves to be positive for the coronavirus, they will receive a PIN from a medical officer to access their phone. Any other phone that has been nearby in the previous two weeks — usually within six feet or less for at least 15 minutes — will receive a warning in which the user is quarantined and notified to the health care provider.
Apps assess the risk based on the strength of the Bluetooth signal (how close you were to the other) and the duration of your connection to you.
Where to get it
At least 15 states participate in this Covid-19 exposure reporting system.
Some states reported enrollments within weeks of launching the program. Maryland launched its notification system on Nov. 10 and more than a million people have already registered, said Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the state health department. The application to combat coronavirus infections has been described “as a complement to traditional contact tracking and as another tool in the toolkit.”
“We are at a key moment in this pandemic, and using the service will help ensure the safety of our families and communities and the functioning of our economy,” Colorado Governor Jared Polis said in a statement.
Is the information from the applications anonymous? Experts say it is.
The apps don’t collect data about users or their whereabouts, and there’s no way to link Covid’s diagnoses and alerts to the names and identities of phones, Gischlar said.
“The process is completely anonymous and does not collect any personally identifiable information, addressing the privacy concerns of previous more invasive contact applications.”
Earlier versions that raised privacy concerns were created by third-party developers. This corona virus notification alert technology is provided by Apple and Google, and users can stop using it at any time, Gischlar said.
Alarms can reduce Covid-19 infections
The more people subscribe to alerts, the more effective they are. Currently, only a small percentage of the roughly 100 million Americans living in the 15 states use the apps.
New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, for example, have formed a regional alliance that uses a similar system that allows their applications to work across state lines, Anscombe said.
States face some challenges in disseminating them
The alarm system is designed to complement traditional touch tracking and not work alone.
But technology has its own challenges. For starters, the notification system only works on Google and Apple phones under the age of five, Anscombe said. Not everyone has a newer smartphone, and only a small percentage of them use the notification system.
In addition, not all states use the notification system. Many public health departments are already inundated with the virus’s resurgence, and some may not have the resources to develop and maintain an application, Anscombe said.
The previous GPS-based notification system has sparked outrage among data protection advocates and sparked skepticism about contact tracking in general, Waters said.
“States need additional funding, which is currently stuck in Congress, to help combat disinformation and increase the use of this critical tool in the battle against Covid,” Waters said.