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Major tech companies are always on the lookout for ways to add new features to their products and/or services. In its recent 13.5 OS release for iPhone and iPad products, Apple incorporated a new feature designed to help users with contact tracing in the event they contract COVID-19.  In this article, we will outline how the new feature works, how to enable and disable it, as well as discuss another change in function related to the virus as well.

Contact Tracing with Apple

The new contact tracing features actually uses Bluetooth data sharing rather than GPS location. When the feature is enabled, Apple securely shares a random ID associated with a user’s device with the devices of nearby users, as well as collecting their IDs. After a period of 14 days, which is considered the maximum incubation period for COVID-19, any IDs collected on devices will be deleted. If an iPhone or iPad user does contract the virus, health officials now have a way to trace individuals they may have come in contact with. In addition, if the infected individual chooses to, they can anonymously share their diagnosis with those in which they came into contact. Notified individuals can then contact their own health care provider for further instructions on what to do about their exposure to the virus.

To enable the feature, one must be using the recently released 13.5 version of Apple’s operating system. To find the new feature, follow these instructions:

  1. Open the “Settings” app.
  2. Tap on “Privacy.”
  3. Under Privacy, tap on “Health”.
  4. Under Health, tap on “COVID-19 Exposure Notifications”.

The COVID-19 Exposure Notifications can be toggled on or off (enabled or disabled) in the same manner as all of Apple’s other Settings features.

Changes With Face ID

With the advent of COVID-19, many individuals are choosing to wear a mask to cover their mouth and nose to help prevent the spread of the virus. In many areas of the country, individuals are actually required to wear some type of facial covering when out in public. This presents a challenge to Apple’s Face ID feature since partially covering one’s face will make it more challenging for Face ID to recognize a user. To combat this, Apple revamped their Face ID feature to immediately prompt the user for their PIN if it fails to recognize the user’s face, rather than forcing the user to jump through multiple hoops before eventually allowing the user to enter their PIN. 

Some Caveats

In order for Apple’s new feature to fully function, users must also locate and download an app from a health authority that can actually make use of the feature. The availability of such an app, along with support of health authorities can vary depending upon which countries and states the user resides in or travels through. The health support may vary as the virus travels throughout various regions, although in general, it is likely that major metropolitan areas will have more timely access to the feature rather than areas with low population levels.

Privacy Concerns

It’s normal to have concerns about privacy when tech companies handle information, especially personal information that relates to one’s health. In their collaboration efforts with Google to help prevent the spread of the virus, Apple has taken several measures to address privacy concerns. The random IDs used to share between devices change every 10-20 minutes to help increase security. Both Google and Apple have pledged not to collect COVID-19 related data and they will not share it with any government entity, nor will they monetize any process associated with the transfer of the data. Any data collected will only be shared through apps associated with the proper health authorities. To address all privacy concerns, Apple and Google have created a FAQ page to answer any questions users may have. 

If you would like further information about Apple’s recent changes that include a COVID-19 contact tracing feature, please contact us.

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