Burton Kelso, Tech Expert
How Can I Tell if COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps Are Tracking You On Your Smartphone & Tablets
Updated: Feb 21, 2021
Technology has been used in a variety of ways to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Google and Apple joined forces to implement a new feature in your smartphones and tablets that will allow your devices to keep track of who has been infected and following up with people who have come in contact with those who have the virus. On paper, this sounds great but I'm sure the biggest questions you're asking are 'Is this feature safe to use on my smart devices' and 'How it will affect my privacy'. With all of the data breaches that have occurred in recent years, these are legitimate questions. Let me put your mind at ease by explaining more about this technology.
What is Exposure Tracking? Exposure tracing (or contract tracing) has been around for a while and it is the process of trying to keep track of people who have a transmittable disease and attempting to follow up with the people they came in contact with. By staying in contact with people, health professionals hope they can prevent further spread of the diseases. If you were to do this process manually, it would take a lot of time to reach out to people, plus you would have to hope that people would remember all of the places they've been and people they had contact with.
How Does Mobile Exposure Tracking Work? Exposure tracking on Apple and Andoird devices works the same way as the manual process except for your smartphone or tablet is doing the reporting. It uses a technology called Bluetooth LE (Low Energy). This uses less of your battery's power and has a shorter range of about 30 feet. Once this technology is implemented on your device, it will send out a signal to other phones while keeping your information secure. This allows you to anonymously self-report if you test positive for COVID19 from your device while alerting you if you have come in contact with another phone where the users have reported that they tested positive. If someone you come in contact with reports an infection, you get a notification of what step you need to take to keep safe such as self-isolating or visiting a medical professional. The latest updates for Apple and Android devices include the technology for exposure tracking, but by default, it's turned off. You have to opt-in order to use this on your device and you have to install a compatible contact tracing app. Because this feature is so new, there aren't many tracking apps available. Later in 2020, Apple & Google plan to make exposure tracking work as a standalone technology eliminating the need for an app.
If you decide to embrace this technology, it's important to note Apple and Google aren't able to scan for information on your devices nor can they track your phone's location with this system. They also aren't able to see if you are infected with COVID19. To keep your information safe, exposure tracking uses an ID system to keep track of the people who have been infected. Only official public health officials and apps can use this technology.
How to Enable Exposure Tracking on Your Phone or Tablet.
Google has included this feature to devices running Android 6 Marshmallow and above from an update to Google Play Services. If you want to turn it on, go to Settings > Google; select COVID-19 exposure notifications, and turn it on. Remember, at this time you have to download an exposure tracking app also to make this work.
Exposure notifications were integrated with iOS 13.5. If you're on an older version of iOS, you need to update your device. After that, go to Settings > Privacy and select Health. From here, tap COVID-19 Exposure Logging and you can enable the feature. As with android, you'll need to have a compatible public health app installed to use it.
Watch out for scams. Cybercriminals always take advantage of crises, and the coronavirus pandemic is no exception. Keep on the lookout for any COIVD-19 phishing attempts that attempt to mimic contact tracing. If you haven't signed up for contract tracing, you won't get any alerts on your devices. That said, if you receive a text message or an email claiming that you've been in contact with an infected individual, ignore it, it's fake. Alerts will only come from within the approved app you've installed on your device. Also, keep in mind that most places in the US aren't conducting manual contact tracing to comply with social distancing. Criminals might disguise themselves as contact tracers in order to get your personal sensitive information. If you get a call saying that you may have been near an infected person, make sure you get as much information as you can about the person or business that's calling before you give out personal information.
If you remember anything from this blog, remember this: Digital contact relies on you opting in with your devices and making your own report if you become infected. Whether or not you chose to use this system, it's important you understand how it works and, how it's designed to keep you safe and how your information is being used in this process. Also, make sure you keep informed so you don't fall for hoaxes and scams that are associated with this technology.
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