Social media has been flooded with claims that Apple and Google have secretly included COVID-19 track and trace apps in their latest operating system updates.
Eagle-eyed smartphone users have spotted a new ‘COVID-19 Exposure Logging’ setting in both Apple and Android phones.
If you have an iPhone updated to the latest iOS you can find this feature by heading to 'Settings', then 'Privacy' then 'Health'.
If you’re on an Android device you’ll find it by going to 'Settings' and then 'Google Settings'.
But does this mean a Coronavirus contact tracing app has been installed in your smartphone without permission?
The answer is no.
When you find the ‘COVID-19 Exposure Logging’ setting you’ll also discover you can’t switch it on, that’s because this is a pre-emptive setting that will only be activated if you download a Coronavirus track and trace app yourself, like the one the UK government is hoping to one day launch.
The UK government and the NHS created a Coronavirus track and trace app, without the help of Apple and Google, which would enable anyone who had the app to log symptoms. The app could then trace other people who they came into contact with, providing they have downloaded the app too.
Track and trace is an important tool used to help stop the spread of coronavirus, and is usually done manually after someone has been infected with Coronavirus. The Government’s track and trace task force then asks for contact details of anyone who the infected individual may have been around and gets in touch to tell them they may need to self isolate.
This manual system takes a lot of time and effort, and the thought is that a functioning app downloaded by as much of the population as possible could really help making the whole track and trace system more efficient.
The NHS app was created and trialled on the Isle of Wight, however that trial was said to have uncovered some problems with the app, and now it’s been shelved indefinitely.
The government has now stated that it will work in tandem with Apple and Google to pool resources and tech on a new Coronavirus app, and this is probably why the setting has appeared in smartphones.
Back in May, the two tech giants issued a joint statement about their track and trace technology: “Apple and Google cooperated to build Exposure Notifications technology that will enable apps created by public health agencies to work more accurately, reliably and effectively across both Android phones and iPhones.”
“Our Exposure Notifications technology is available to public health agencies on both iOS and Android. What we’ve built is not an app—rather public health agencies will incorporate the API into their own apps that people install. Our technology is designed to make these apps work better. Each user gets to decide whether or not to opt-in to Exposure Notifications; the system does not collect or use location from the device; and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to report that in the public health app. User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage use of these apps.”
Want to know more about what happened with the NHS Coronavirus app? Check out our everything you need to know guide