Before jumping into the US news regarding COVID-19 tracker apps, I’ll reiterate a universal grain of salt to take whenever reading about tracker apps: the success of these apps hinges entirely on users self-reporting a positive test result. ProgrammableWeb has a working list of APIs launched with the aim of assisting the effort to battle COVID-19. This article covers the first active efforts in the sphere of tracker-apps launched by states in the US.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has made the first fully active leap into a contact-tracing app using the Apple-Google APITrack this API. The app, called COVIDWISE, runs in the background of a smartphone after being enabled by the user, relying on Bluetooth to exchange anonymous user tokens in lieu of using GPS to track physical locations. Instead, the anonymous Bluetooth Low Energy collects and stores signals from nearby phones. Phones trade anonymous keys, which change every 15 minutes. So long as Bluetooth is turned on, the app downloads a daily list of anonymous tokens associated with positive COVID-19 cases. The app then checks them against a list of anonymous tokens from the phones which have been within 6 feet of the user’s phone for at least 15 minutes, over the past two weeks (14 days). When sets of tokens match for the anonymous reports, users receive a notification of possible exposure.
This anonymity is central to the point of the app: the goal is to catch new cases earlier on and help patients isolate. Per Virginia Governor Grant Northam, “No one is tracking you, none of your personal information is going to be saved.” This guarantee of anonymity means that the app isn’t tracking user movements, and users will receive general exposure notifications without identifying a where, or when (beyond a window of the prior 14 days).
The COVIDWISE was developed by SpringML, a data analytics company headquartered in Pleasanton, CA. When reporting a positive test result for the coronavirus, the report is first verified with the department through the issuance of a pin number. iPhone software must be current to at least iOS 13.6 for the app to work properly.
Seven hundred miles south of Virginia, the first American pilot-test of an app built with the Apple-Google API is live in the state of Alabama. GuideSafe was developed by the Alabama Department of Public Health, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Birmingham-based tech company MotionMobs. After beta-testing in April of this year, the closed pilot test has launched, focused on tracking the virus on higher education campuses. The pilot began in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham and opened to eleven other locations on August 4, 2020. The development process was boosted by a thirty million dollar grant from the federal CARES act, passed March 2020.
Tracking apps are a moving target, we invite you to look at our coverage of tracking apps across the United States.