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COVID-19 Exposure Notification API from Apple, Google may not work with Aarogya Setu - here is why

Upon its release last month, as many as 23 countries had shown interest in using the Exposure Notification API for developing COVID-19 contact-tracing apps.

June 29, 2020 / 10:04 AM IST
Representative image

Representative image

The ‘Exposure Notification’ API developed by Apple and Google for apps to help trace COVID-19 cases has started rolling out in India. The tool was launched in May by both the tech giants for developers to create apps based on the API.

Upon its release, as many as 23 countries showed interest in using the API for developing COVID-19 contact-tracing apps. India already has its own Aarogya Setu COVID-19 contact-tracing app developed by the government.

Is the Apple and Google Exposure Notification API compatible with the Aarogya Setu app?

Exposure Notification API is incompatible with Aarogya Setu. There are two reasons for that — The difference in underlying tech and privacy.

How does the Exposure Notification API work?

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Frequently Asked Questions

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A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

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Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Apple and Google’s Exposure Notification API have different functionality to trace COVID-19 cases. It uses the smartphone’s Bluetooth functionality. Once enabled, users’ devices will regularly send out a beacon via Bluetooth that includes a random Bluetooth identifier, which changes every 10-20 minutes. Other phones will be listening for these beacons and broadcasting theirs as well. When each phone receives another beacon, it will record and securely store that beacon on the device.

If an individual is tested COVID-19 positive, the device will transmit a list of people the user came in contact with and alert them. The companies further state that the identification key does not include any location data.

Why is Aarogya Setu not compatible with the Apple and Google COVID-19 tech?

The guidelines state that Apple and Google will not share any location data of users unless the user has been reported COVID-19 positive or they have come in contact/ proximity with a coronavirus patient. This could be the reason why despite the Exposure Notification API being launched, it may not work with India’s Aarogya Setu app.

Aarogya Setu uses location data as a mode to track and trace individuals infected with the coronavirus, and this is one of the key reasons why the Apple and Google Exposure Notification API tool will not work with the app. Both companies at launch had said that privacy and preventing governments from using the system to compile data on citizens was the primary goal.

Apple Google partner for COVID-19

What’s next?

For the Exposure Notification API to work with Aarogya Setu, the government will be required to completely change the underlying framework of its coronavirus contact-tracing app. After incorporating the API in its app, the government will not be able to track or trace individuals unless they are reported positive. Furthermore, each user will have to make an explicit choice to turn on the technology at any time.

Also read: What is contact tracing? How does contact tracing in India work? All your questions answered

It is unlikely that the government will update the Aarogya Setu app with the Apple and Google Exposure Notification API. Aarogya Setu, despite several concerns and controversies over security issues, has been downloaded by over 13.5 crore users in India. Communications and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recently stated that the Aarogya Setu is completely safe and the data is stored for a very limited time period.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.
Moneycontrol News
first published: Jun 29, 2020 10:04 am

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