COVID-19 Bluetooth-based tracking and what it means for you

In April, Apple and Google teamed up to create an exposure notification system to help track COVID-19. Originally designed to be embedded in state or country-issued apps, this API tool is now broadly available in Android and iOS operating systems.

Understanding how exposure notification works

The solution uses Bluetooth identifiers instead of geolocation data to protect user identity. Using Bluetooth-based proximity detection prevents governments from accessing personal data and keeps the information stored in the user’s mobile device. Since the API is not stored in a central database, app developers cannot access location data. Each smartphone is given random, rotating identifiers that change every ten to twenty minutes to prevent outside sources from tracking personal information. Any information approved for release is anonymous.

So how do you access this tool on your smartphone? Good question. Read on to find out more.

Downloading an Exposure Notification App

COVID-19 Safety app on iOS, Version 1

Download and install apps or widgets to add functionality that doesn’t come pre-installed on a device. Apps can be in a category such as social media, health, navigation, productivity and more. Widgets include calendar widgets, weather widgets and more.

  1. The indicator is in the center.

    From the Home screen, tap App Store.

    Step 1/9
  2. The indicator is in the bottom right.

    Tap Search.

    Step 2/9
  3. The indicator is towards the top.

    Tap the Games, Apps, Stories, and More field.

    Step 3/9
  4. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    Enter the name of your country, region, or state's COVID tracking app.

    Note: For this tutorial we are using Virginia's COVIDWISE app. Your country, region, or state's app may be called something different.

    Step 4/9
  5. The indicator is in the bottom right.

    Tap search.

    Step 5/9
  6. The indicator is in the top right.

    Tap GET.

    Step 6/9
  7. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    Tap Install.

    Step 7/9
  8. The indicator is in the top right.

    Tap OPEN.

    Note: After this step, follow any Getting Started steps to get the app set up. Remember to enable Exposure Notifications during this process.

    Note: You will need to have an Exposure Notifications app installed and set up to turn on Exposure Notifications.

    Step 8/9
  9. There are no indicators associated with this step.
    Step 9 of 9:

    You've completed the steps!

    Step 9/9

Downloading an Exposure Notification App

COVID-19 Safety app on Android, Version 1

Download and install apps or widgets to add functionality that doesn’t come pre-installed on a device. Apps can be in a category such as social media, health, navigation, productivity and more. Widgets include calendar widgets, weather widgets and more.

  1. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    From the Home screen, tap PlayStore.

    Note: For this tutorial we are using a device that accesses settings by swiping up. Your device may follow a different path to access applications.

    Step 1/8
  2. The indicator is towards the top.

    Tap the Search for apps & games field.

    Step 2/8
  3. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    Enter the name of your country, region, or state's COVID tracking app.

    Note: For this tutorial we are using Virginia's COVIDWISE app. Your country, region, or state's app may be called something different.

    Step 3/8
  4. The indicator is in the bottom right.

    Tap the Search key.

    Step 4/8
  5. The indicator is towards the top.

    Select the app you'd like to install.

    Step 5/8
  6. The indicator is in the center.

    Tap Install.

    Step 6/8
  7. The indicator is in the top right.

    Tap Open.

    Note: After this step, follow any Getting Started steps to get the app set up. Remember to enable Exposure Notifications during this process.

    Step 7/8
  8. There are no indicators associated with this step.
    Step 8 of 8:

    You've completed the steps!

    Step 8/8

This API tool is used in government-built mobile apps. To access the app your country or region must first opt-in for the program. Once this occurs you’ll be able to manage exposure notification preferences in the setting app of your smartphone. For detailed instructions please see the above interactive guides.

Consent-based sharing

Understanding how your data will be used

COVID-19 Safety app on iOS, Version 1

Learn how the your Covid-19 tracking app will be using your data.

  1. There are no indicators associated with this step.

    All data collected using the Apple Exposure Notification feature will be stored on your device.

    Step 1/8
  2. There are no indicators associated with this step.

    Your device will periodically collect anonymous beacons of nearby smartphone devices and store them locally.

    Step 2/8
  3. There are no indicators associated with this step.

    The random IDs generated by your device will change every 10-20 minutes so that your location can't be tracked.

    Step 3/8
  4. There are no indicators associated with this step.

    Your device and the devices of those around you who are also opted into the Exposure Notification feature will periodically send the randomly generated IDs to each other via Bluetooth.

    Step 4/8
  5. There are no indicators associated with this step.

    Your device will periodically check the random IDs that your device received against a list of IDs associated with a positive COVID-19 test result.

    Step 5/8
  6. There are no indicators associated with this step.

    The app will notify you if you have been near someone with a random ID associated with a positive COVID-19 test result and will direct you on your next actions.

    Step 6/8
  7. There are no indicators associated with this step.

    You may not have had direct contact with the person who had a positive test result; they may have been in a car near you. However, precautions should be taken to ensure that you do not have COVID-19.

    Step 7/8
  8. There are no indicators associated with this step.
    Step 8 of 8:

    You've completed the steps!

    Step 8/8

Public health authorities will need permission to collect proximity data between users who test positive for COVID-19. Unless the user agrees to consent-based sharing, people they have come into contact with will not be alerted. If granted permission, the user’s identifier is uploaded to a central server for others to view. When in close contact with a person, Android and iOS users will be notified if they have been exposed to the pathogen. For accurate data collection, individuals are given a unique code that confirms the diagnostic test has been distributed and approved by healthcare professionals.

Activating exposure notification

Activating Exposure Notification on your device

COVID-19 Safety app on iOS, Version 1

You can activate Covid-19 exposure settings in your devices settings. If you come into contact with someone who has reported that they have been infected with Covid-19, you will be notified.

  1. The indicator is in the center.

    From the Home screen, tap Settings.

    Step 1/11
  2. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    Scroll to Exposure Notifications.

    Step 2/11
  3. The indicator is in the center.

    Tap Exposure Notifications.

    Step 3/11
  4. The indicator is towards the top.

    Tap Turn on Exposure Notifications.

    Step 4/11
  5. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    Tap Continue.

    Step 5/11
  6. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    Scroll to your Country or Region.

    Step 6/11
  7. The indicator is in the center.

    Select your Country or Region.

    Note: For this tutorial we are setting up the device to use United States as the Country and Virginia as the State. You should choose the Country or Region where you reside.

    Step 7/11
  8. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    Scroll to your State or Region.

    Step 8/11
  9. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    Select your State or Region.

    Step 9/11
  10. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    Tap Done.

    Note: If your Region has an Exposure Notification app, you will be notified on this screen. Tap Open App Store to be directed to your Region's app to download it.

    Step 10/11
  11. There are no indicators associated with this step.
    Step 11 of 11:

    You've completed the steps!

    Step 11/11

Activating Exposure Notification on your device

COVID-19 Safety app on Android, Version 1

You can activate Covid-19 exposure settings in your devices settings. If you come into contact with someone who has reported that they have been infected with Covid-19, you will be notified.

  1. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    From the Home screen, swipe up to view your applications.

    Note: For this tutorial we are using a device that accesses settings by swiping up. Your device may follow a different path to access applications.

    Step 1/8
  2. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    Scroll to Settings.

    Note: For this tutorial we are using a device that requires scrolling to access Settings. You may need to swipe left or right to access Settings.

    Step 2/8
  3. The indicator is in the bottom right.

    Tap Settings.

    Step 3/8
  4. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    Scroll to Google.

    Step 4/8
  5. The indicator is towards the bottom.

    Tap Google.

    Step 5/8
  6. The indicator is in the center.

    Tap COVID-19 exposure notifications.

    Step 6/8
  7. The indicator is in the top right.

    Tap or slide the Use Exposure Notifications switch to ON.

    Step 7/8
  8. There are no indicators associated with this step.
    Step 8 of 8:

    You've completed the steps!

    Step 8/8

To activate or deactivate the exposure notification on your device connect to the health-related app or in privacy settings as an exposure logging toggle. App users have the power to grant permission to be monitored by switching this toggle on or off. This tool will use low energy, and when turned on, it won’t drain the phone’s battery life. To protect the user’s identity, developers can only collect the bare minimum of information required to operate the app.

Fighting COVID-19 with technology

Technology is one way of fighting this pandemic. Google and Apple’s API release is paving the way to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 on a global scale. The exposure notification technology is a great example of technological innovation creating new and unforeseen benefits in our everyday lives. Please consider sharing these interactive guides with friends and family to help them stay safe and informed.