The federal government launched its coronavirus exposure notification app in Ontario on Friday after weeks of delay.
The ‘COVID Alert’ app aims to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in Canada by notifying a user when they have been in close contact with another user who tested positive for the virus. The government describes it as an exposure notification app — not a contact-tracing app — as it does not track personal data.
“This app does not replace contact tracing — a critical public health function. Contact tracing will continue to be performed manually by local public health authorities,” the government said in a statement.
The exposure notification app was supposed to be launched in Ontario at the beginning of July but was delayed because the government said it wanted to take the time to make the smartphone app user-friendly.
It is being tested in Ontario first before launching across Canada.
“Other provinces will be joining in soon, so people across the country can and should download it today,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday at a media conference. “This is another tool to protect your health … if enough people sign up, this can help prevent future outbreaks of COVID-19 in Canada.”
How do I download the COVID-19 Alert app?
When you download the app it will explain how your privacy is protected and how the app works and then ask for your permission to send your notifications. It will then prompt you to a screen that lets you choose your location, which is optional.
How does it work?
In order to trace someone’s exposure, the app uses Bluetooth to exchange random codes with nearby phones. It does not use or access any location data, the website states.
“Several times a day, ‘COVID Alert’ checks a list of codes from people who tell the app they tested positive. You’ll get a notification if a code you received matches one of the positive codes,” the website states.
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If a user tests positive for the coronavirus, they will receive a diagnosis key from a public health official to enter into the app. Once the user enters the key into the app, it will ask the user for permission to share the random code with a central server.
Other phones using the app then check the central server, and if records any codes that match the one in the server, the user will be notified that they have been exposed in the past 14 days.
The app will provide information on steps the user can take to keep themselves and others safe.
The federal government stressed that Canadians’ privacy will be protected.
According to the website, the COVID Alert app has no way of knowing:
- Your location, as it does not use GPS or location services
- Your name or address
- The place or time you were near someone
- If you are currently near someone who was previously diagnosed
On Friday, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada released a statement supporting the COVID Alert app.
“Canadians can opt to use this technology knowing it includes very significant privacy protections,” Daniel Therrien, Privacy Commissioner of Canada said in the statement. “I will use it.”