Immuni, social tracing app ready: how it will alert those at risk of infection

Covid-19 exposure notifications is the system on which the Immuni app is based. Here's what they are and how they work

The release of Immuni is getting closer and closer: from June 5 it will start with testing in three regions (Liguria, Abruzzo and Puglia) to which three more could be added. If the tests are positive, from June 12 the app will be available throughout the country and it will be possible to download it from the App Store and Google Play Store.

The Immuni app is the tool chosen by the Government to monitor Covid-19 infections and track the spread of the virus, in order to prevent the outbreak of new outbreaks throughout Italy. Immuni is an app for contact tracing and uses Bluetooth technology to communicate with smartphones, the pillars on which this system is based. The operation is quite simple: when two people who have Immuni installed and Bluetooth active meet, their devices exchange an anonymous identification code. If, in the following days, one of the two people tests positive for the infection, the other receives a notification on the smartphone that alerts him of the exposure to Covid-19 and of the need to contact the local health service.

The APIs of Apple and Google

The arrival of Immuni has been rather troubled: initially it was expected on May 4 with the start of Phase 2, but due to "bureaucratic" problems and related to the development of the app has been postponed by a month. To change the plans of the Government and Bending Spoons, the Milanese software house that is developing the app, the announcement by Apple and Google to work together on APIs that would allow Android and iOS smartphones to communicate with each other and exchange identification codes.

The APIs arrived only on May 20 and Bending Spoons had to adapt Immuni to the new contact tracing system created by the two big technology companies. The system is already available on users' smartphones, thanks to software updates arrived in the previous days: for Apple users it is integrated within iOS 13.5, while on Android it has been released with the last update of Google Play Services.

The release of the automatic update on Android has also triggered some controversy, with messages appeared on social networks in which Google was accused of wanting to automatically activate the tracking of activities. All this referred to the appearance in the Settings of the smartphone of the item "Notifications of exposure to Covid-19". Function that by default is not active and will become so only when Immuni arrives and only if the person wants it.

What is the system Notifications of exposure to the Covid-19

"Notifications of exposure to the Covid-19" is the new feature that all users with a smartphone running Android 6 or higher find for a few days in the Settings of the Google account. The tool is used to alert a person in case he/she has had close contacts with a Covid-19 infected person. In order for the tool to work, you need to have Immuni with Bluetooth enabled on your smartphone, otherwise the Covid-19 Exposure Notifications system is disabled.

How Exposure Notifications work on Android

Exposure notifications are the beating heart of contact tracing apps like Immuni. The tool is activated after installing the app on your smartphone and with Bluetooth working. What are they used for? Notifications allow your smartphone to share random IDs with other phones in the vicinity where Exposure Notifications is active. All anonymous IDs are saved on the smartphone and shared with a central server managed by Sogei. If a person with whom you have come into contact tests positive for COVID-19 and reports their status on the app, you will receive a notification advising you of your exposure to the virus. At this point, the National Health System comes into play and will have to swab and quarantine the person.

Do not be afraid for your privacy: the codes that are exchanged between smartphones are anonymous and cannot be traced back to the person. When you receive the exposure notification, only the day, duration and intensity of the contact is reported, in order to protect the privacy of the positive person. Moreover, the causal ID is changed every 10-20 minutes and after 14 days it is automatically deleted. Finally, it should be noted that in no way is GPS used, so Immuni does not track the person's location and activity.