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National COVID-19 exposure server could alert people across states

Apple, Google and Microsoft would all play a part.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
July 18, 2020
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BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 16: The English version of the German federal health ministry's Corona-Warn-App software is seen on an Apple iPhone next to a medical facial mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer in this photo illustration on the day of the app's release during the novel coronavirus pandemic on June 16, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Germany launched its contact tracing smartphone app, which uses short-range Bluetooth to alert people who may have been exposed to an individual who has contracted the coronavirus, without relying on a centralized database. The app was originally scheduled for launch in April, but was delayed due to technical difficulties and concerns over privacy issues. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
Adam Berry/Getty Images

COVID-19 contact tracing apps will only be effective across borders if states and countries can readily share data, and a collaboration could soon make that happen in the US. iMore reports that Apple, Google, and Microsoft are working with the Association of Public Health Laboratories to launch a national server to store keys and help exposure notifications reach people across states. It would be based around Apple and Google’s exposure alert framework, while Microsoft and APHL would host the server.

The move could harmonize apps across the country and help people who travel across state lines. It could also help “eliminate duplication” and save states the cost and time involved with setting up their own servers, the APHL said.

The group didn’t provide a timeline for when the server would be ready. It may also take tracing app developers time to implement the server.

This could be crucial to a recovery from the virus as travel restrictions ease. However, it does raise privacy issues. The Apple/Google approach exists in part to decentralize exposure info and protect any sensitive data. It might be harder to protect data concentrated on one server. APHL said it would “securely” store the data, but this might prove a tempting target even if the keys don’t reveal much.

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