Skip to Content
Tech policy

Apple and Google have launched coronavirus exposure notifications without an app

Four US states have just announced they'll sign up to the revamped system.
September 2, 2020
covid app
covid app
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

The news: Apple and Google have announced they’re expanding their coronavirus exposure warning system so health agencies can take part without needing to create a customized app. It’s a significant upgrade to the system, which uses Bluetooth to work out if people have spent extended periods of time near each other and then notifies the close contacts of someone who tests positive for coronavirus. The original system launched in May and has since been adopted by six states in the US and at least 15 countries. Maryland, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington, DC, will be the first to sign up to use the revamped system, Apple and Google said in a conference call.

How it works: In states or regions that have enabled the “Exposure Notifications Express” tool, a prompt will flash up on phones with the latest version of Apple or Android’s operating system, informing the user that it’s available. Apple users just need to tap the screen to enable it. Android users will still have to download an app—however, the app is automatically generated for public health authorities by Google. All the agency has to do is provide Apple and Google with some basic information and set up servers to host Bluetooth keys and exposure verification.

Why it matters: It’s a promising development at a time when excitement around contact tracing apps has distinctly cooled. Anything that makes it easier for agencies to set up these apps should help boost adoption in the population at large, which is crucial if they are going to help break the chain of infections. However, it’s still not a panacea. These apps will only ever be part of the overall fight against covid-19, which still heavily relies on manual contact tracing, social distancing, and mass testing.

Read next: Is a successful contact tracing app possible? These countries think so.

Deep Dive

Tech policy

surveillance concept
surveillance concept

South Africa’s private surveillance machine is fueling a digital apartheid

As firms have dumped their AI technologies into the country, it’s created a blueprint for how to surveil citizens and serves as a warning to the world.

pouring a pile of sugar
pouring a pile of sugar

Inside the fierce, messy fight over “healthy” sugar tech

Yi-Heng “Percival” Zhang was a leader in rare sugar research. Then things got sticky.

dossier of journalist information concept
dossier of journalist information concept

The secret police: Inside the app Minnesota police used to collect data on journalists at protests

Intrepid Response is a little-known but powerful app that lets police quickly upload and share information across agencies. But what happens to the information it collects?

concept illustration of secret documents
concept illustration of secret documents

The secret police: After protests around George Floyd’s murder ended, a police system for watching protesters kept going

Documents obtained by public records requests show that Operation Safety Net, a sprawling policing operation in Minnesota, continued to respond to protests long after the effort was supposedly shuttered.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.