A 'secret' Covid-19 tracker is appearing on smartphones - here's why it's nothing to worry about

By Alex Nelson
Monday, 6th July 2020, 8:51 am
Updated Monday, 6th July 2020, 8:52 am
Covid-19 Exposure Logging is designed to work with contact tracing apps, but since the UK doesn't have one, it won't affect Brits (Photo: Shutterstock)

Smartphone users have complained of a new coronavirus tracing feature appearing on their phones, despite not knowingly downloading any updates.

Recent updates to both iOS and Android devices brought with them the Exposure Notification API, and it appears that some weeks on, users are noticing a new, 'Covid-19 Exposure Logging' function on their phones.

However, this feature is not a new app in and of itself, and the API (Application Programming Interface) serves only to allow future coronavirus contact tracing apps to work on the devices.

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Since the UK doesn't have a working contract tracing app, the new function makes no difference to Brits' phones.

The UK's future contact tracing app will use Bluetooth technology to track phones that are within close proximity to each other, allowing health officials to easily identify anyone who has been close to someone with Covid-19.

Here's everything you need to know:

What is the new 'tracker'?

iOS and Google's Android operating systems run on 98 per cent of phones and tablets globally, and earlier in the year, the two tech giants announced a partnership to help in fighting the spread of Covid-19.

The joint effort to permit devices to be used for contact tracing will enable authorities to track people who have been exposed to coronavirus carriers.

Since the Exposure Notification API is not an app, it cannot make any changes or do anything to your phone until a compatible programme is installed.

The Covid-19 Exposure Logging function is disabled by default in territories where a workable contact tracing app is not available, such as the UK.

Its settings page says it can "exchange random IDs with other devices using Bluetooth," but only "when enabled".

It's not something that will be apparent to many users, and seems to have been 'discovered' by eagle-eyed tech fans attempting to diagnose problems with their handsets.

The initial phase of the roll-out requires users to download apps from public health authorities in order to enable contact tracing on their devices.

Apple and Google have said that they plan to do away with the need for dedicated apps and bake "a broader, Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform" into their operating systems directly, but that should be available "in the coming months."

Should I be worried?

Exposure Logging's settings page says it  'cannot access any data in, or add data to, the Health app' (Photo: Shutterstock)

Those who have stumbled across the new function appear to have been blindsided by its appearance.

Some have described the "sneaky" introduction of the new feature as "Orwellian", despite both Apple and Google announcing its arrival ahead of their latest updates.

Exposure Logging's settings page says it  "cannot access any data in, or add data to, the Health app."

"The random IDs your device collects are stored in an exposure log for 14 days.

"This exposure log allows an app you authorise to notify you if you may have been exposed to Covid-19."

Does it drain battery?

Users in Germany - which does have a working contact tracing app - have complained that the function drains battery life.

And now tech fans in the UK are blaming Covid-19 Exposure Logging for a multitude of issues with their own devices.

No connection between the new feature and any other issue has been officially confirmed.

It's likely that those experiencing problems delved into their settings to try to isolate the problem, unwittingly stumbled upon Covid-19 Exposure Logging, and put two and two together.

However, as with all new updates and features, bugs and glitches do happen, though both Google are Apple are yet to report any known issues.