Built-in COVID-19 tracking tool comes to iPhones with iOS 13.7
Apple launched the latest update to iOS today, iOS 13.7. Among the usual bug fixes and security updates is a built-in tool that public health authorities can tap into to track the spread of COVID-19.
The new tool is called the Exposure Notifications Express system. It builds on an earlier API (introduced in iOS 13.5) that public health officials could use to build an app for tracking exposure to the novel Coronavirus. The new system no longer requires these officials to create an application or for users to download anything.
Exposure Notifications Express still requires public health officials to opt into the service, and part of that opt-in process requires them to submit how users will be notified when they are exposed to a carrier of COVID-19.
Essentially, the system uses anonymized Bluetooth tags that are stored locally on users’ phones to track who has tested positive for COVID-19. If another iPhone user comes within close contact of a positive individual, the phone’s will communicate with each other and notify the user that someone who tested positive for the virus has come within close proximity, possibly exposing them to COVID-19.
When the feature rolled out in iOS 13.5, it required users to download an app from their local public health officials. Exposure Notifications Express removes the need for an app while still allowing health officials access to and control over the system.
Users have to intentionally opt-in for Exposure Notifications Express; the update will not automatically opt them into the program unless they have already done so in a previous version of iOS. Users can also turn off the system at any time through the Settings in iOS.
Interestingly, there is no mention of the new system in the update description in iOS (see the photo above). Curiously, Apple did not shine a spotlight on the feature where most people tend to learn about the new features of an update.