New York City’s Vaccine Passport Plan Renews Online Privacy Debate

When New York City announced on Tuesday that it would soon require people to show proof of at least one coronavirus vaccine shot to enter businesses, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the system was “simple — just show it and you’re in.”

Less simple was the privacy debate that the city reignited.

Vaccine passports, which show proof of vaccination, often in electronic form such as an app, are the bedrock of Mr. de Blasio’s plan. For months, these records — also known as health passes or digital health certificates — have been under discussion around the world as a tool to allow vaccinated people, who are less at risk from the virus, to gather safely. New York will be the first U.S. city to include these passes in a vaccine mandate, potentially setting off similar actions elsewhere.

But the mainstreaming of these credentials could also usher in an era of increased digital surveillance, privacy researchers said. That’s because vaccine passes may enable location tracking, even as there are few rules about how people’s digital vaccine data should be stored and how it can be shared. While existing privacy laws limit the sharing of information among medical providers, there is no such rule for when people upload their own data onto an app.

sends a person’s location, city name and an identifying code number to a server as soon as the user grants the software access to personal data.

passed a law limiting such use only to “serious” criminal investigations.

“One of the things that we don’t want is that we normalize surveillance in an emergency and we can’t get rid of it,” said Jon Callas, the director of technology projects at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group.

While such incidents are not occurring in the United States, researchers said, they already see potential for overreach. Several pointed to New York City, where proof of vaccination requirements will start on Aug. 16 and be enforced starting on Sept. 13.

For proof, people can use their paper vaccination cards, the NYC Covid Safe app or another app, the Excelsior Pass. The Excelsior Pass was developed by IBM under an estimated $17 million contract with New York State.

To obtain the pass, people upload their personal information. Under the standard version of the pass, businesses and third parties see only whether the pass is valid, along with the person’s name and date of birth.

On Wednesday, the state announced the “Excelsior Pass Plus,” which displays not only whether an individual is vaccinated, but includes more information about when and where they got their shot. Businesses scanning the Pass Plus “may be able to save or store the information contained,” according to New York State.

Phase 2,” which could involve expanding the app’s use and adding more information like personal details and other health records that could be checked by businesses upon entry.

IBM has said that it uses blockchain technology and encryption to protect user data, but did not say how. The company and New York State did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. de Blasio told WNYC in April that he understands the privacy concerns around the Excelsior Pass, but thinks it will still “play an important role.”

For now, some states and cities are proceeding cautiously. More than a dozen states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas, have in recent months announced some type of ban on vaccine passports. The mayors of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle have also said they were holding off on passport programs.

Some business groups and companies that have adopted vaccine passes said the privacy concerns were valid but addressable.

Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said it supported vaccine passes and was pushing the federal government to establish privacy standards. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which is helping its members work with Clear, said using the tools to ensure only vaccinated people entered stores was preferable to having businesses shut down again as virus cases climb.

“People’s privacy is valuable,” said Rodney Fong, the chamber’s president, but “when we’re talking about saving lives, the privacy piece becomes a little less important.”

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How New Laws Across India Are Seeking to Ban All Interfaith Marriages

SRINAGAR, Kashmir — Manmeet Kour Bali had to defend her marriage in court.

A Sikh by birth, Ms. Bali converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man. Her parents objected to a marriage outside their community and filed a police complaint against her new husband.

In court last month, she testified that she had married for love, not because she was coerced, according to a copy of her statement reviewed by The New York Times. Days later, she ended up in India’s capital of New Delhi, married to a Sikh man.

Religious diversity has defined India for centuries, recognized and protected in the country’s Constitution. But interfaith unions remain rare, taboo and increasingly illegal.

A spate of new laws across India, in states ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., are seeking to banish such unions altogether.

the idea that Muslim men marry women of other faiths to spread Islam. Critics contend that such laws fan anti-Muslim sentiment under a government promoting a Hindu nationalist agenda.

Last year, lawmakers in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh passed legislation that makes religious conversion by marriage an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. So far, 162 people there have been arrested under the new law, although few have been convicted.

Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk and the top elected official of Uttar Pradesh, said shortly before that state’s Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance was passed.

Four other states ruled by the B.J.P. have either passed or introduced similar legislation.

In Kashmir, where Ms. Bali and Mr. Bhat lived, members of the Sikh community have disputed the legitimacy of the marriage, calling it “love jihad.” They are pushing for similar anti-conversion rules.

interrupted a wedding ceremony in December. The couple were taken into custody, and released the following day when both proved they were Muslim, according to regional police, who blamed “antisocial elements” for spreading false rumors.

A Pew Research Center study found that most Indians are opposed to anyone, but particularly women, marrying outside their religion. The majority of Indian marriages — four out of five — are arranged.

The backlash against interfaith marriages is so widespread that in 2018, India’s Supreme Court ordered state authorities to provide security and safe houses to those who wed against the will of their communities.

In its ruling, the court said outsiders “cannot create a situation whereby such couples are placed in a hostile environment.”

The country’s constitutional right to privacy has also been interpreted to protect couples from pressure, harassment and violence from families and religious communities.

Muhabit Khan, a Muslim, and Reema Singh, a Hindu, kept their courtship secret from their families, meeting for years in dark alleyways, abandoned houses and desolate graveyards. Ms. Singh said her father threatened to burn her alive if she stayed with Mr. Khan.

In 2019, they married in a small ceremony with four guests, thinking their families would eventually accept their decision. They never did, and the couple left the central Indian city of Bhopal to start a new life together in a new city.

“The hate has triumphed over love in India,” Mr. Khan said, “And it doesn’t seem it will go anywhere soon.”

In Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh state, the B.J.P.-led government passed a bill in March modeled after the Uttar Pradesh law, stiffening penalties for religious conversion through marriage and making annulments easier to obtain.

The government is not “averse to love,” said the state’s home minister, Narottam Mishra, “but is against jihad.”

Members of Kashmir’s Sikh community are using Ms. Bali’s marriage to a Muslim man, Shahid Nazir Bhat, to press for a similar law in Jammu and Kashmir.

“We immediately need a law banning interfaith marriage here,” said Jagmohan Singh Raina, a Sikh activist based in Srinagar. “It will help save our daughters, both Muslims and Sikhs.”

At a mosque in northern Kashmir in early June, Ms. Bali, 19, and Mr. Bhat, 29, performed Nikah, a commitment to follow Islamic law during their marriage, according to their notarized marriage agreement.

Afterward, Ms. Bali returned to her parents’ home, where she said she was repeatedly beaten over the relationship.

“Now my family is torturing me. If anything happens to me or to my husband, I will kill myself,” she said in a video posted to social media.

The day after she recorded the video, Ms. Bali left home and reunited with Mr. Bhat.

Even though a religious ceremony between people of the same faith — as Mr. Bhat and Ms. Bali were after her conversion — is recognized as legally valid, the couple had a civil ceremony and got a marriage license to bolster their legal protections. The marriage agreement noted that the union “has been contracted by the parties against the wish, will and consent of their respective parents.

“Like thousands of other couples who don’t share same the religious belief but respect each other’s faith, we thought we will create a small world of our own where love will triumph over everything else,” Mr. Bhat said. “But that very religion became the reason of our separation.”

Ms. Bali’s father filed a police complaint against Mr. Bhat, accusing him of kidnapping his daughter and forcing her to convert.

On June 24, the couple turned themselves into the police in Srinagar, where both were detained.

At the court, Ms. Bali recorded her testimony before a judicial magistrate, attesting that it was her will to convert to Islam and marry Mr. Bhat, according to her statement. Outside, her parents and dozens of Sikh protesters protested, demanding that she be returned to them.

It is unclear how the court ruled. The judicial magistrate declined requests for a transcript or an interview. Her parents declined an interview request.

The day after the hearing, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, the head of the largest Sikh gurudwara in New Delhi, flew to Srinagar. He picked up Ms. Bali, with her parents, and helped organize her marriage to another man, a Sikh. Following the ceremony, Mr. Sirsa flew with the couple to Delhi.

“It would be wrong to say that I convinced her,” Mr. Sirsa said in an interview. “If anything adverse was happening, she should have said.”

A written request for an interview with Ms. Bali was sent via Mr. Sirsa. He said she did not want to talk.

“She had a real breakdown,” he said, repeating Ms. Bali’s parents’ claims that their daughter was kidnapped and forced to marry Mr. Bhat.

Mr. Bhat was released from police custody four days after Ms. Bali left for Delhi.

At his home in Srinagar, he is fighting the kidnapping charges. He said he was preparing a legal battle to win her back, but he feared the Sikh community’s disapproval would make their separation permanent.

“If she comes back and tells a judge she is happy with that man, I will accept my fate,” he said.

Sameer Yasir and Iqbal Kirmani reported from Srinagar, Kashmir, and Emily Schmall reported from New Delhi.

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Fear and Misery in an Afghan City Where Taliban Stalk the Streets

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — The Afghan way of war in 2021 comes down to this: a watermelon vendor on a sweltering city street, a government Humvee at the front line just 30 feet away, and Taliban fighters lurking unseen on the other side of the road.

When the shooting starts, the vendor makes himself scarce, leaving his melons on the table and hoping for the best. When it stops, selling resumes, to customers now all too rare.

“I don’t have a choice. I’ve got to sell the melons,” said the vendor, Abdel Alim, speaking to New York Times journalists while he kept an eye on a lane within Kunduz city from which he said Taliban had emerged. “Most people have left,” he said. “There is fighting all the time.”

374,000 in Afghanistan’s north, and several other provincial capitals as well, as the Afghan government’s war with the Taliban enters a new and dangerous phase. For weeks, the insurgents have captured vulnerable districts across the country’s north, sometimes without even firing a shot. And on Wednesday, the Taliban said they had captured an important border crossing with Pakistan, at Spin Boldak — the fourth crossing they have seized in less than a month.

taken by the insurgents in 2015 and then again in 2016. Both times, the insurgents were eventually pushed back by the Afghan forces with help from American airstrikes. It was here that an American gunship mistakenly blasted a Doctors Without Borders hospital in 2015, killing 42 people.

This time, the Americans won’t be coming. The battle for Kunduz has become an intimate fight between Afghan opponents at close range.

“Every night they come to these houses and fire on us,” said the chief of police of Kunduz’s Third Municipal District, Sayed Mansoor Hashimi, looking out at now-vacant dwellings all around his police station. “Slowly, slowly they are tightening the circle.”

The war in Kunduz is intertwined with the fabric of the city. Shopping trips are planned between bursts of war. Residents no longer pay sufficient attention, said Marzia Salam Yaftali, the medical director at Kunduz Regional Hospital. “They are wounded in the streets or in the bazaar,” she said.

At the hospital, Ezzatullah, 14, lay in one of the wards, his legs wrapped in bandages: He lost both his feet when a mortar landed as he was playing outside his house. Three members of his family, including one of his parents, were killed.

“I can’t go to school now,” he said. Asked what he saw as his future, he replied firmly: “I want to be a man, to rebuild my country.”

The war, and the enemy, are inescapable. “We have to live here. Where can we go?” asked Ezamuddin Safi, a telecommunications worker who had to flee his home inside the city in early July. He was passing the day inside a small downtown restaurant.

“My 3-year-old boy, he screams when he hears the firing. He’s tired,” said Mr. Safi, 25. “Taliban are everywhere.”

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For China’s Business Elites, Staying Out of Politics Is No Longer an Option

Internet infrastructure operators like Didi must now prove their political and legal legitimacy to the government, Ma Changbo, an online media start-up founder, wrote on his WeChat social media account.

“This is the second half of the U.S.-China decoupling,” he wrote. “In the capital market, the model of playing both sides of the fence is coming to an end.”

Didi, Ms. Liu and Mr. Liu didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

China’s internet companies have benefited from the best of two worlds since the 1990s. Many received foreign venture funding — Alibaba, the e-commerce giant, was funded by Yahoo and SoftBank, while Tencent, another internet titan, was backed by South Africa’s Naspers. They also copied their business models from Silicon Valley companies.

The Chinese companies gained further advantages when Beijing blocked almost all big American internet companies from its domestic market, giving its home players plenty of room to grow. Many Chinese internet firms later went public in New York, where investors have a bigger appetite for innovative and risky start-ups than in Shanghai or Hong Kong. So far this year, more than 35 Chinese companies have gone public in the United States.

Now the Didi crackdown is changing the calculations for many in China’s tech industry. One entrepreneur who has set her sights on a listing in New York for her enterprise software start-up said it would be harder to go public in Hong Kong with a high valuation because what her company did — software as a service — was a relatively new idea in China.

A venture capitalist in Beijing added that because of China’s data security requirements, it was now unlikely that start-ups in artificial intelligence and software as a service would consider going public in New York. Few people were willing to speak on the record for fear of retaliation by Beijing.

At the same time, the United States has become more hostile to Chinese tech companies and investors. As Washington has ramped up its scrutiny of deals that involve sensitive technologies, it has become almost impossible for Chinese venture firms to invest in Silicon Valley start-ups, several investors said.

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Congress Faces Renewed Pressure to ‘Modernize Our Antitrust Laws’

WASHINGTON — When the nation’s antitrust laws were created more than a century ago, they were aimed at taking on industries such as Big Oil.

But technology giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, which dominate e-commerce, social networks, online advertising and search, have risen in ways unforeseen by the laws. In recent decades, the courts have also interpreted the rules more narrowly.

On Monday, a pair of rulings dismissing federal and state antitrust lawsuits against Facebook renewed questions about whether the laws were suited to taking on tech power. A federal judge threw out the federal suit because, he said, the Federal Trade Commission had not supported its claims that Facebook holds a dominant market share, and he said the states had waited too long to make their case.

The decisions underlined how cautious and conservative courts could slow an increasingly aggressive push by lawmakers, regulators and the White House to restrain the tech companies, fueling calls for Congress to revamp the rules and provide regulators with more legal tools to take on the tech firms.

David Cicilline, a Democrat of Rhode Island, said the country needed a “massive overhaul of our antitrust laws and significant updates to our competition system” to police the biggest technology companies.

Moments later, Representative Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, agreed. He called for lawmakers to adapt antitrust laws to fit the business models of Silicon Valley companies.

This week’s rulings have now put the pressure on lawmakers to push through a recently proposed package of legislation that would rewrite key aspects of monopoly laws to make some of the tech giants’ business practices illegal.

“This is going to strengthen the case for legislation,” said Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “It seems to be proof that the antitrust laws are not up to the challenge.”

introduced this month and passed the House Judiciary Committee last week. The bills would make it harder for the major tech companies to buy nascent competitors and to give preference to their own services on their platforms, and ban them from using their dominance in one business to gain the upper hand in another.

including Lina Khan, a scholar whom President Biden named this month to run the F.T.C. — have argued that a broader definition of consumer welfare, beyond prices, should be applied. Consumer harm, they have said, can also be evident in reduced product quality, like Facebook users suffering a loss of privacy when their personal data is harvested and used for targeted ads.

In one of his rulings on Monday, Judge James E. Boasberg of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said Facebook’s business model had made it especially difficult for the government to meet the standard for going forward with the case.

The government, Judge Boasberg said, had not presented enough evidence that Facebook held monopoly power. Among the difficulties he highlighted was that Facebook did not charge its users for access to its site, meaning its market share could not be assessed through revenue. The government had not found a good alternative measure to make its case, he said.

He also ruled against another part of the F.T.C.’s lawsuit, concerning how Facebook polices the use of data generated by its product, while citing the kind of conservative antitrust doctrine that critics say is out of step with the technology industry’s business practices.

The F.T.C., which brought the federal antitrust suit against Facebook in December, can file a new complaint that addresses the judge’s concerns within 30 days. State attorneys general can appeal Judge Boasberg’s second ruling dismissing a similar case.

fined Facebook $5 billion in 2019 for privacy violations, there were few significant changes to how the company’s products operate. And Facebook continues to grow: More than 3.45 billion people use one or more of its apps — including WhatsApp, Instagram or Messenger — every month.

The decisions were particularly deflating after actions to rein in tech power in Washington had gathered steam. Ms. Khan’s appointment to the F.T.C. this month followed that of Tim Wu, another lawyer who has been critical of the industry, to the National Economic Council. Bruce Reed, the president’s deputy chief of staff, has called for new privacy regulation.

Mr. Biden has yet to name anyone to permanently lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which last year filed a lawsuit arguing Google had illegally protected its monopoly over online search.

The White House is also expected to issue an executive order this week targeting corporate consolidation in tech and other areas of the economy. A spokesman for the White House did not respond to requests for comment about the executive order or Judge Boasberg’s rulings.

Activists and lawmakers said this week that Congress should not wait to give regulators more tools, money and legal red lines to use against the tech giants. Mr. Cicilline, along with Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that the judge’s decisions on Facebook show “the dire need to modernize our antitrust laws to address anticompetitive mergers and abusive conduct in the digital economy.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, echoed their call.

“After decades of binding Supreme Court decisions that have weakened our antitrust policies, we cannot rely on our courts to keep our markets competitive, open and fair,” she said in a statement. “We urgently need to rejuvenate our antitrust laws to meet the challenges of the modern digital economy.”

But the six bills to update monopoly laws have a long way to go. They still need to pass the full House, where they will likely face criticism from moderate Democrats and libertarian Republicans. In the Senate, Republican support is necessary for them to overcome the legislative filibuster.

The bills may also not go as far in altering antitrust laws as some hope. The House Judiciary Committee amended one last week to reinforce the standard around consumer welfare.

Even so, Monday’s rulings have given the proposals a boost. Bill Baer, who led the Justice Department antitrust division during the Obama administration, said it “gives tremendous impetus to those in Congress who believe that the courts are too conservative in addressing monopoly power.”

Facebook and the tech platforms might like the judge’s decisions, he said, “but they might not like what happens in the Congress.”

Mike Isaac contributed reporting.

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Lina Khan Named F.T.C. Chair by Biden

President Biden named Lina Khan, a prominent critic of Big Tech, as the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, according to two people with knowledge of the decision, a move that signals that the agency is likely to crack down further on the industry’s giants.

A public announcement of the decision is expected Tuesday, one of the people said.

Earlier in the day, the Senate voted 69 to 28 to confirm Ms. Khan, 32, to a seat at the agency. The commission investigates antitrust violations, deceptive trade practices and data privacy lapses in Silicon Valley.

Ms. Khan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In her new role, Ms. Khan will help regulate the kind of behavior highlighted for years by critics of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple. She told a Senate committee in April that she was worried about the way tech companies could use their power to dominate new markets. She first attracted notice as a critic of Amazon. The agency is investigating the retail giant and filed an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook last year.

Her appointment was a victory for progressive activists who want Mr. Biden to take a hard line against big companies. He also gave a White House job to Tim Wu, a law professor who has criticized the power of the tech giants.

But Mr. Biden has yet to fill another key positions tasked with regulating the industry: someone to lead the Department of Justice’s antitrust division.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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Why Apple and Google’s Virus Alert Apps Had Limited Success

Sarah Cavey, a real estate agent in Denver, was thrilled last fall when Colorado introduced an app to warn people of possible coronavirus exposures.

Based on software from Apple and Google, the state’s smartphone app uses Bluetooth signals to detect users who come into close contact. If a user later tests positive, the person can anonymously notify other app users whom the person may have crossed paths with in restaurants, on trains or elsewhere.

Ms. Cavey immediately downloaded the app. But after testing positive for the virus in February, she was unable to get the special verification code she needed from the state to warn others, she said, even after calling Colorado’s health department three times.

“They advertise this app to make people feel good,” Ms. Cavey said, adding that she had since deleted the app, called CO Exposure Notifications, in frustration. “But it’s not really doing anything.”

announced last year that they were working together to create a smartphone-based system to help stem the virus, their collaboration seemed like a game changer. Human contact tracers were struggling to keep up with spiking virus caseloads, and the trillion-dollar rival companies — whose systems run 99 percent of the world’s smartphones — had the potential to quickly and automatically alert far more people.

Soon Austria, Switzerland and other nations introduced virus apps based on the Apple-Google software, as did some two dozen American states, including Alabama and Virginia. To date, the apps have been downloaded more than 90 million times, according to an analysis by Sensor Tower, an app research firm.

But some researchers say the companies’ product and policy choices limited the system’s usefulness, raising questions about the power of Big Tech to set global standards for public health tools.

Stephen Farrell and Doug Leith, computer science researchers at Trinity College in Dublin, wrote in a report in April on Ireland’s virus alert app.

CA Notify in December, about 65,000 people have used the system to alert other app users, the state said.

“Exposure notification technology has shown success,” said Dr. Christopher Longhurst, the chief information officer of UC San Diego Health, which manages California’s app. “Whether it’s hundreds of lives saved or dozens or a handful, if we save lives, that’s a big deal.”

In a joint statement, Apple and Google said: “We’re proud to collaborate with public health authorities and provide a resource — which many millions of people around the world have enabled — that has helped protect public health.”

Based in part on ideas developed by Singapore and by academics, Apple and Google’s system incorporated privacy protections that gave health agencies an alternative to more invasive apps. Unlike virus-tracing apps that continuously track users’ whereabouts, the Apple and Google software relies on Bluetooth signals, which can estimate the distance between smartphones without needing to know people’s locations. And it uses rotating ID codes — not real names — to log app users who come into close contact for 15 minutes or more.

said last year in a video promoting the country’s alert system, called Corona-Warn-App.

But the apps never received the large-scale efficacy testing typically done before governments introduce public health interventions like vaccines. And the software’s privacy features — which prevent government agencies from identifying app users — have made it difficult for researchers to determine whether the notifications helped hinder virus transmission, said Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“The apps played virtually no role at all in our being able to investigate outbreaks that occurred here,” Dr. Osterholm said.

Some limitations emerged even before the apps were released. For one thing, some researchers note, exposure notification software inherently excludes certain vulnerable populations, such as elderly people who cannot afford smartphones. For another thing, they say, the apps may send out false alarms because the system is not set up to incorporate mitigation factors like whether users are vaccinated, wearing masks or sitting outside.

Proximity detection in virus alert apps can also be inconsistent. Last year, a study on Google’s system for Android phones conducted on a light-rail tram in Dublin reported that the metal walls, flooring and ceilings distorted Bluetooth signal strength to such a degree that the chance of accurate proximity detection would be “similar to that of triggering notifications by randomly selecting” passengers.

Kimbley Craig, the mayor of Salinas, Calif. Last December, when virus rates there were spiking, she said, she downloaded the state’s exposure notification app on her Android phone and soon after tested positive for Covid-19. But after she entered the verification code, she said, the system failed to send an alert to her partner, whom she lives with and who had also downloaded the app.

“If it doesn’t pick up a person in the same household, I don’t know what to tell you,” Mayor Craig said.

In a statement, Steph Hannon, Google’s senior director of product management for exposure notifications, said that there were “known challenges with using Bluetooth technology to approximate the precise distance between devices” and that the company was continuously working to improve accuracy.

The companies’ policies have also influenced usage trends. In certain U.S. states, for instance, iPhone users can activate the exposure notifications with one click — by simply turning on a feature on their settings — but Android users must download a separate app. As a result, about 9.6 million iPhone users in California had turned on the notifications as of May 10, the state said, far outstripping the 900,000 app downloads on Android phones.

Google said it had built its system for states to work on the widest range of devices and be deployed as quickly as possible.

Some public health experts acknowledged that the exposure alert system was an experiment in which they, and the tech giants, were learning and incorporating improvements as they went along.

One issue they discovered early on: To hinder false alarms, states verify positive test results before a person can send out exposure notifications. But local labs can sometimes take days to send test results to health agencies, limiting the ability of app users to quickly alert others.

In Alabama, for instance, the state’s GuideSafe virus alert app has been downloaded about 250,000 times, according to Sensor Tower. But state health officials said they had been able to confirm the positive test results of only 1,300 app users. That is a much lower number than health officials would have expected, they said, given that more than 10 percent of Alabamians have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“The app would be a lot more efficient if those processes were less manual and more automated,” said Dr. Scott Harris, who oversees the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Colorado, which automatically issues the verification codes to people who test positive, has reported higher usage rates. And in California, UC San Diego Health has set up a dedicated help line that app users can call if they did not receive their verification codes.

Dr. Longhurst, the medical center’s chief information officer, said the California app had proved useful as part of a larger statewide public health push that also involved mask-wearing and virus testing.

“It’s not a panacea,” he said. But “it can be an effective part of a pandemic response.”

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