iOS 13.7 activates tracking for every user, but not in Europe

Exposure reports without Corona app

When Apple and Google announced their COVID-19 API, it was already the intention that the function would be activated by default for every user at a later stage. This has been the case since iOS 13.7 and the tracking technology has been activated for all iPhone users. This allows the function to work without the Corona app, but not yet in Europe.

Initially, a Corona app from a government agency was required to activate the COVID-19 API and function, this is no longer necessary. This ensures that hundreds of thousands of iPhones, as well as Android devices, can communicate with each other anonymously. Does it appear that you are infected with the COVID-19 virus? Then you can warn all your contacts with whom you have had contact.

iOS 13.7 adds built-in exposure notifications

Apple calls the tracking function exposure notifications and can be activated since iOS 13.7 without the intervention of a Corona app. Once iOS 13.7 is installed and you region or country the option supported, your iPhone will ask if you want to activate the exposure notifications for COVID-19. You can decline or accept this by tapping Continue. Then iOS asks which country or region you are in (the Netherlands or Belgium) and then the function is activated, if possible.

Not yet active in Europe

Although Apple now has the capability built in as standard, the ‘automatic tracking’ feature is not yet active in Europe. The Exposure Notifications Express option is currently only available in four US regions: Virginia, Washington DC, Nevada, and Maryland. It is currently unknown when the feature will be activated worldwide.

How do the automatic digital greetings work?

The built-in exposure notifications of iOS 13.7 work exactly like most Corona apps and the functionality is very similar to the Dutch CoronaMelder app. Only now you no longer need an extra app and everything is controlled by iOS.

Thanks to Bluetooth Low Energy, smartphones with iOS 13.7 or the latest Android version can exchange digital greetings if they have the option activated. Your phone is given a unique ID that changes every 15 minutes. Whenever your iPhone for at least 10 minutes is near the device of others, a short digital greeting follows. At that point, the phones exchange each other’s current ID. This data, including date and time, is stored anonymously in a log on your phone and cannot be traced back to a person. In addition, a temporary central database with anonymous IDs of infected persons is maintained.

operation of exposure notifications for COVID-19 API

iOS and Android regularly check the digital greetings and compare them with the central database. If it turns out that someone has been infected with the coronavirus during this meeting, you will receive a notification. This can also take place afterwards. Suppose you were in the vicinity of someone who turned out to be infected three days ago, you will still receive a notification. The intention is that you go into self-quarantine until you are sure that you are no longer sick or contagious.

Working of exposure notifications briefly explained

  1. Two people meet
  2. The phone exchanges everyone’s unique ID via bluetooth in the background
  3. IDs are registered in a local database on the phone
  4. A person gets sick and passes this on via the app
  5. ID is sent anonymously to a central server
  6. Previous digital encounters are compared
  7. Anyone who has been in contact with the contagious person will receive a notification

Report infection

At the moment the automatic exposure notifications have just been launched, the description of the function states that anyone can report a diagnosis of COVID-19 to all digital greetings. This could encourage abuse. For example, you can only notify the GGD via the Dutch Corona Reporter that you are infected by means of a unique code. For the time being, it remains to be seen how iOS will handle this exactly in, for example, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Privacy comes first

Privacy has been a thing since the AVG law, when it became known that the Netherlands wants to use an app to map the virus, there was soon panic in the country. What about my privacy then? Can the government track me and constantly see where I am? No, and Apple, Google and the makers of the NL CoronaMelder app also make that very clear. Because digital greeting via bluetooth is used, tracking your location (GPS) is not necessary. After all, you only need to know who you have been in contact with and not where.

tracking function

If you have a list of all the phones that have greeted each other, it will suffice. The greeting is anonymous and cannot be traced back to a person or location. So the functionality becomes not linked to a person or name. To prevent abuse, the unique ID of each device is refreshed every 15 minutes. Of course, your phone will remember this information so that you can be warned later. All digital encounters (IDs) are stored locally, encrypted and anonymously on your iPhone for up to 14 days.

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