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How to opt-out of Apple's Covid-19 Contact Tracing tool

The new API is now available for public health groups to add to their apps. Here's what this means for you — and how you can opt out if you choose

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With Apple's latest iOS 13.5 comes a new tool to use amid the coronavirus pandemic. Called COVID-19 Exposure Logging, the feature will help public health groups worldwide track people who come into contact with others who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The new feature is actually an API — a tool written in code — that is part of the new iOS whether you want it or not. Key, though, is that people can opt-in to be a part of the tracing, and also opt-out.

Contact tracing is one of the tools that public health experts say could help as businesses, offices, schools and other institutions start to open after people have quarantined to some measure. Being able to tell if someone diagnosed with Covid-19 has come into contact with other people, could help stop additional people from infecting others and the virus from spreading.

Both Apple and Google have worked together to build this new API, which means it will be available on iPhones and Android mobile phones. And that means those who use one of these devices will be able to traced, but again, only if they opt-in.

Covid-19 Exposure Logging The Covid-19 Exposure Logging tool is part of the new iOS 13.5GearBrain

Opt-out is the current default

Currently, this option on the iPhone is in the opt-out position. And crucially, people cannot opt-in until they've downloaded an app that makes use of the API. Right now, countries across five continents — including many states in the United States — have shown interest in adopting the API in apps that they're developing.

For those who opt-in, they should know that their personal information will not be collected. Instead, their devices will be assigned a random key — something that is not connected to a person's name, or anything personal about them.

Contract tracing will work when these random keys on devices recognize each other when they're within Bluetooth range. Two keys will note that they've been near each other when they come close — and these random IDs are then stored for 14 days in an exposure log assigned to each key.

If a person with one of these keys is diagnosed with Covid-19, — and this is crucial — they get to choose whether to activate their own random ID with the health app they've downloaded. That would then alert the other keys or IDs that have come into contact with them in the past 14 days.

People with these keys will then get a notification that they've been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus. But they won't know anything about the person who has the virus — nor will any information stored in Apple's Health app be read, nor anything added as well. In other words, your Health app won't store the information that you've been in contact with someone with Covid-19.

Again, people do not have to opt-in to these tracing — and even if do opt-in, they do not have to share if they've been diagnosed.

It's important that people know where this new feature is located on their iPhone.

So here's how to find the Exposure Logging on your iPhone:

  • Go to Settings
  • Click on Privacy
  • Click on Health
  • At the top, you'll see COVID-19 Exposure Logging
  • You'll see, in gray, the setting is Off.
  • Click on the arrow in this area, and you'll actually go to the page, where you'll see you can't turn the toggle to green, or on. That's because health apps using this API are not yet available to download.
  • If you look further down this screen, you'll see the phrase, "Active App." And under this you'll see, "No installed app." This is where the name of the health app would be if you've downloaded one.
  • Below this is the phrase, "Exposure Checks."
  • Click on this phrase, and you'll find it can only open after it activates Face ID, and confirms you're the owner of the phone.

In Exposure Checks will be the log of all the random IDs or keys you've come into contact with over the past 14 days. Here you'll see a notification that your exposure log "has not even checked in the past 14 days." Again, this is because you do not have an app downloaded that uses this API.

Back on the main screen, below "Exposure Checks," you can also see the option to "Delete Exposure Log." This will be an option if and when you download a public health app.

Covid-19 Exposure Logging Until someone downloads a public health app using the new API, they can't opt-in to the Exposure Logging toolGearBrain

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