Apple, Google ban use of location tracking in contact tracing apps

Women wear face masks to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus as they stand near an Apple store in Beijing Friday

Google and Apple have set out ground rules for public health authorities looking to develop contact-tracing apps on their platform, and the guaranteed monopolies they enable could make some lucky developers very rich.

iOS 13.5 includes a new menu in "Settings" - "Health" - "COVID-19 Exposure Logging" that indicates which public health authority app a user is using.

Applications must be created by or for a government public health authority and can only be used for COVID-19 response efforts. User consent is also another key element. The person diagnosed must also give their consent to share their positive test result with anyone who they may have come in close contact with, registered via Bluetooth "handshakes".

They should only gather the minimum amount of info necessary for the purposes of exposure notification, and should use that only for the sake of COVID-19 response.

Use of the API will be restricted to one app per country to promote high user adoption and avoid fragmentation.

Apple and Google said they would continue support countries that decide to use locally-made tracing systems, such as France, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Apple and Google will continue to release updates and development kits before releasing a public version of the API to consumers later this month. Moreover, the apps will prohibit all kinds of targeted advertising, which means that any apps that have been using targeted advertising or location services will need to turn off those systems before they access the API.

A document released by the Department of Health said that the app - developed by Waterford-based NearForm - can be used by anyone with an Apple or Google smartphone less than five years old.

In the future, the technology will be embedded more deeply into the Apple and Google operating systems to be less reliant on apps.

According to Google and Apple's requirements, the apps must be created by or for a government or public health agency and will be able to utilize the companies' API only if they don't track users with location information or Global Positioning System. Moreover, users will have the option to disable exposure notifications from the apps in case they don't want to receive any alerts.

While it is not yet clear how much the two national apps will differ, Apple and Google are setting out a warning to those who live in border areas or who might need to travel to and from the United Kingdom in the near future.