COVID-19 Tracking: There’s an app for that

Experts say users are notified if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 10:18 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Technology to combat the Coronavirus now fits in the palm of your hand, after Google and Apple teamed up to create a contact tracing system.

You may have seen the feature on your Apple or Android device. If you go to your cell phone’s settings, you’ll see “COVID-19 exposure logging.”

Experts say the function is used for contact tracing and will notify you if you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Kassem Fawaz, UW-Madison Electric and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor, said by default the feature is turned off, and it only works if state public health officials create an app to partner with the feature.

If you have an app and turn exposure logging on, the anonymous contact tracing is done through Bluetooth.

“Whatever your phone is broadcasting will be received by another phone and stored in a local memory,” Fawaz said.

If you’re on your phone using Bluetooth, and another stranger is within 6 ft of you also using Bluetooth, random generated codes will be stored in your phones’ memory that can be used for contact tracing, according to Fawaz.

“These wireless messages have IDs in them that have random numbers in them. They don’t tell anything about you,” Fawaz added.

If you test positive for COVID-19, health officials can use the codes to alert people that they may have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19.

“People who get the notification, they don’t know anything about you. They just know someone with this random ID has tested positive,” said Fawaz.

Fawaz, who works on privacy systems, says the Bluetooth generates random codes every time to protect your privacy, so your phone is not traceable.

“Don’t freak out. There’s nothing bad that’s going to happen. Even when you enable it, the privacy precautions are built-in by design and they have been accepted by the experts,” Fawaz said.

Right now, Wisconsin does not have an app to use the logging feature, but you’ll still find the feature on your device.

Virginia was the first state to offer the supporting app. Five others have since followed suit.

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