iOS 13.5: The Pandemic Release

Today Apple released iOS 13.5. I can’t help but think of this as the pandemic release with several Covid-19 related changes and features:

  • If the phone detects you are wearing a face mask, it will go straight to passcode entry.

  • FaceTime now has the option to turn off those floating panels. How much you want to bet there where a bunch of Apple Executives working from home in the last two months saying, “what the hell is this?”

  • It’s also now easier to share your data with emergency services.

The Exposure Notification API

I’ve written a lot over the years about government intrusion on user privacy and my general preference that we be allowed to keep our device information private. So when I first heard about this feature, I was skeptical.

Since then, I’ve read the Apple/Google documentation and studied this new feature in greater detail. I’ve also watched the mounting global death toll as a result of this horrible disease.

I fully support the exposure notification API.

Apple and Google created this collaboratively. Because the companies have such different views on user data, I think this was a good thing.

As implemented, your phone will act as a Bluetooth beacon and generate a random identifier. It will then keep a list of other random identifiers you’ve come in contact with. If, for example, you ride up an elevator with a group of other iPhone and Android devices, the anonymous data will keep track of that. If a healthcare professional determines one of those devices was attached to a human that later is diagnosed with Covid-19, you’ll get a notification that you’ve been exposed and advised of the next steps.

There is no geo-tracking. It’s just a list of what random numbers saw what other random numbers. I think it’s a smart API that helps us deal with a massive health crisis and protects user privacy at the same time.

There are already too many people dead. Count me in.