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Hearings on Quebec contact tracing app raise privacy concerns

Click to play video 'National Assembly hearings on COVID-19 tracking app continue' National Assembly hearings on COVID-19 tracking app continue
WATCH: Privacy concerns were at the heart of the COVID-19 tracking hearings at the National Assembly on Thursday. As Global's Raquel Fletcher explains, even the experts concede that people might be very reluctant to dowmload any tracking app for fear of being hacked or having private information stolen.

Montreal restaurant owner Alain Creton sees the value in contact tracing, but he’s reluctant to ask his customers for their personal information.

“It’s very uncomfortable to ask people, ‘Will you please give me your name and your address?'” said the owner of Chez Alexandre.

Privacy and confidentiality are at the heart of National Assembly hearings this week on contact tracing apps for smartphones.

Read more: Making coronavirus contact-tracing app user-friendly caused delay, Hajdu says

Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy, then Quebec Solidaire MNA Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois launched into a heated debate with cybersecurity expert Mourad Debbabi after he said the risks associated with bluetooth technology are minimal.

Earlier in the day, other experts had raised flags about the technology, especially considering an app would require users to keep their Bluetooth on all day.

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UQAM professor Sébastien Gambs, who is also the Canadian research chair in privacy preservation, noted recent flaws with it in Android phones.

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“Last week there was a vulnerability in Bluetooth on android smartphone that could be exploited to download your SMS and contacts,” he said.

Read more: Alberta’s COVID-19 contact-tracing app a ‘security risk’ on Apple devices: privacy commissioner

Another cybersecurity expert said that even small risks might deter Quebecers from using these types of apps.

“I’ve got a feeling that a large share of the population doesn’t trust such applications for the protection of their personal data. There have been so many hacks these past few years,” said Benoît Dupont, a Université de Montréal criminology professor.

“People are very mindful of their privacy,” he said.

Dupont said that privacy concerns, coupled with a general feeling the pandemic is under control, has resulted in little interest in these apps in other countries.

“From what we know from France and other countries, like Australia, there is a tiny fraction of the population downloading the app,” he said.

Read more: Many seniors don’t own a smartphone. Experts say it might be a ‘gap’ in tracking apps

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However, Debbabi asked, “What is the alternative?”

He said any anti-virus software on your computer is not perfect. He added new technology will make contact tracing more effective, which is key to fighting the virus, but it is not 100 per cent risk-free.

Click to play video 'Montreal-based contact-tracing website aims to give a boost to service industry' Montreal-based contact-tracing website aims to give a boost to service industry
Montreal-based contact-tracing website aims to give a boost to service industry