Apple launches iOS 13.5 with ‘Exposure Notification API’ support

It's unclear if Canadian health authorities will take advantage of the API

Apple’s iOS 13.5, the latest version of the tech giant’s mobile operating system, includes support for the company’s COVID-19 ‘Exposure Notification API’ developed in partnership with Google.

The API aims to support government public health authorities with their COVID-19 contact tracing efforts. The API requires public health authorities to develop their own apps that support the development API. Along with this development kit, iOS users also now have access to ‘COVID-19 Exposure Logging Global Settings.’ The feature — which is off by default — is located in the ‘Settings’ app under the ‘Privacy’ section and the ‘Health’ subsection.

Global Exposure Logging can’t be turned on until you have an app that is authorized by your device to use the functionality. When you download an app that supports the API, you’ll receive a pop-up asking if you want to opt into exposure notifications. It’s worth noting that it’s possible to manually delete your iPhone’s exposure log if you decide to opt-out. Apple and Google state that as of May 20th, several U.S. states and 22 countries across five continents have requested and received access to the API. In Canada, it remains unclear if public health authorities intend to take advantage of the API. There are currently no apps that support the Exposure Notification API.

iOS 13.5 update

The contact tracing API uses randomized, temporary identifiers to ensure user privacy, according to Google and Apple. Both companies state that this is a temporary feature that will be disabled once the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is over.

iOS 13.5 also reduces the time it takes to input a passcode to log into an iPhone. Given many people are wearing face masks, this should make logging into iPhones that support Face ID a less frustrating process. Finally, it’s also now possible to change what video tile shows up bigger in Group FaceTime calls.

Contact tracing is a common strategy for battling the spread of infectious disease, though the process usually involves tracking and interviewing infected individuals to learn who they may have exposed. In this case, Apple and Google’s API takes advantage of Bluetooth low-energy to notify users that they have come into contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

Update 05/22/2020: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government is “working closely with Apple and Google” in regards to a COVID-19 contact tracing app.