How to opt in to the COVID-19 Exposure Notification Express system on an iPhone

Updated March 6th, 2021.

Apple’s no-app-required COVID-19 Exposure Notification Express system has gone “live” in California, and while the system’s been out for months in other states its availability in California is news. So I’m writing about it now.

You have to turn Exposure Notifications on manually. And you should. You might save someone’s life. Maybe yours. And maybe mine!

Basically, all you have to do is turn it on. “Set it and forget it.”

Here’s to opt into the system.

Turning it on

Just go to Settings and tap “Exposure Notifications.” Then tap “Turn On Exposure Notifications.” (If you don’t see that option your iPhone isn’t running a new enough operating system. The no-app exposure notification system requires iOS 13.7 or higher.)

Turning Exposure Notifications ON in iOS 14
Turning on Exposure Notifications in iOS 14

If you’ve already turned Exposure Notifications on you’ll see a screen like this:

Exposure Notifications are ON
Exposure Notifications are ON

How Exposure Notifications Work.
After tapping “Turn On Exposure Notifications” and then “How Exposure Notifications Work”

Tap the big blue Continue button, select your location, and even then, Exposure Notifications are still not on– you’ll still have to tap “Agree.”

And still it’s not on, because you have to agree one more time.

Hopefully, your state has activated the Express Exposure Notification system, like California finally did. Sorry to report that Texas has not. Not yet.

How it works

The idea is, if your iPhone comes within Bluetooth range of an iPhone or Android device, and the owner of the that device gets a positive COVID-19 test within 14 days, you’ll be notified. The system doesn’t know location data, it doesn’t know names, it doesn’t know Apple IDs or email addresses or any other personal information, so you won’t know any of that stuff either. But you will know that someone you’ve been relatively close to in the past 14 days has had a positive COVID-19 test, and that’s good information for you to have.

Apple worked with Google on this system. It is not iPhone-only (but it’s iPhone-better, since with an iPhone you don’t have to download an app, but on an Android phone you do.) This way, it doesn’t matter that some people have iPhones while other people have Samsungs and other Google-powered Android phones, because modern phones can communicate with each other over Bluetooth.

When you think of the people you have brief encounters with (at the grocery store, at the gas station, at the doctor’s office waiting room) and you think about how you don’t know who those people are, and who they might have come in contact with before they spent a few minutes around you, it’s obvious that contact tracing is a pretty difficult job. A system that does the work for us, like this one that Apple and Google have put together, helps a lot.

If your state has implemented the “Exposure Notification Express” feature, like California did December 10th, 2020, you can opt into Apple’s no-app system by turning on Exposure Notifications in your iPhone’s Settings. You don’t have to download an app, you don’t have to enter any information, all you have to do is turn the feature on. You do have to have an iPhone with iOS 13.7 or higher.

In case you think you’re going to be tracked…

Well, you’re going to be. Sort of. All that’s going to be tracked is whose phones your phone has been near recently.

You’re already being tracked several other ways: Google Maps and Apple’s Map apps know where you are, and where you’ve been, and when; MasterCard and Visa know what you buy, and when, and they know how much you spend in a month— and they sell that information; AT&T and Verizon et al know where you are, and when, and who you called and who you texted and when. If you accept that level of tracking for convenience’s sake, accepting a much lower, non-privacy-invading, not-going-to-store-your-personal-info kind of tracking with the admirable goal of keeping people alive should be an easy decision.

I strongly urge you to turn this feature on. Do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones, do it for friends you haven’t met yet. Help to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Copyright 2008-2021 Christian Boyce. All rights reserved.

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