Google announced on Friday that 20 states and territories, representing around 45% of the American population, have been “exploring” COVID-19 contact tracing apps built around the Exposure Notifications System (ENS) tool developed by Google in partnership with Apple. The first American apps are now expected to be released “over the coming weeks”, the company added in a statement coming from Google’s VP of Engineering Dave Burke.
Meanwhile, Google said that ENS tech has already been launched in 16 other countries to develop their local tracing apps, including nations in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Canadian and German authorities have previously publicly stated their intention to install the apps.
ENS is based on a technique that enables app users to send them notifications in case they have been exposed to coronavirus by tracking their encounters with other people through Bluetooth signals on their smartphones. Google notes that tracing apps will be developed and used only by a country’s public health authorities, and not by the tech giants themselves, noting that the user’s identity and location details are not collected or shared with others.
The Apple-Google tracing tool still found many critics, after the two rival tech giants first announced their unprecedented collaboration back in May, with cyber security specialists citing concerns over "unnecessary" collection of personal data, despite the companies relying on a decentralised database approach in the development of apps.
In the United States, the initiative has initially been welcomed by state officials in North Dakota, South Carolina and Alabama, who have announced that they would be the ones to launch apps based on the ENS tool. However, a backlash over privacy issues has already prompted South Carolina lawmakers to put the launch of the in-state app on hold.