PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – With privacy and cybersecurity a constant concern these days, many eyebrows have been raised as people notice a setting for “COVID-19 Exposure Logging” on their cellphones.
So, is your phone a contact tracer? And will it be sharing your personal health information without you knowing it?
In this case, no.
Apple and Google partnered to create technology that public health agencies can use to create their own apps that iPhone and Android users could download. More technically, they created an API (or application programming interface).
Florida at this point has not contracted with any company to create a contact tracing app, the state’s department of health told Local 10 News.
Apple and Google explained the technology in a joint statement last month when it was made available:
“Our Exposure Notifications technology is available to public health agencies on both iOS and Android. What we’ve built is not an app — rather public health agencies will incorporate the API into their own apps that people install. Our technology is designed to make these apps work better. Each user gets to decide whether or not to opt-in to Exposure Notifications; the system does not collect or use location from the device; and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to report that in the public health app. User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage use of these apps.
“Today, this technology is in the hands of public health agencies across the world who will take the lead and we will continue to support their efforts,” the statement concluded.
Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina were the first states to commit to using the technology.
Infectious disease experts have consistently said that contact tracing is one of the keys to getting through an outbreak like COVID-19. It involves tracking people who become infected, and the people they have been in close contact with, to reduce the chances of further spread.
Florida’s department of health has staffed up with humans to increase its contact trading during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Typically, the department employs approximately 500 full-time epidemiologists. FDOH hired 359 additional epidemiologists as temporary staff,” the state said in an email to Local 10. “More than 1,600 individuals, including students, epidemiologists and other staff from across the Department, are currently involved in contact tracing every positive case of COVID-19 in Florida. The Florida Department of Health has also engaged with MAXIMUS, a widely recognized company with previous experience in supporting governmental agencies, to hire an additional 400 contact tracers and 200 disease investigators.”
Florida’s health department said it is prepared to expand its number of contact tracers if needed.
So, will we be missing out if our state doesn’t take advantage of this new technology?
Not according to the Washington Post, which published an article titled: “Apple and Google are building a virus-tracking system. Health officials say it will be practically useless.”
According to that story, strict rules imposed by the companies call for the system to notify smartphone users if they’ve potentially come into contact with an infected person, but it won’t automatically share any data with health officials or reveal where those meetings took place.