Canadians can now download new COVID-19 exposure-alert smartphone app

Canadians can now download new COVID-19 exposure-alert smartphone app

Canadians can now download new COVID-19 exposure-alert smartphone app

OTTAWA — Canadians can now begin downloading a voluntary smartphone app meant to warn users they’ve been near someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he downloaded the “COVID Alert” app this morning and says the more people who sign up to use it, the better it will be able to trace — and help to slow — the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Health experts say that if enough people sign up, this app can help prevent future outbreaks of COVID-19 in Canada,” Trudeau said Friday in Ottawa during a visit to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The free app, available for Android and iPhones on Friday by searching “COVID Alert” in the app store, is designed to track the location of phones relative to each other, without collecting personal data anywhere centrally, using digital identifications unique to each device.

Then users can be notified if their phones have recently been near the phone of a person who later volunteers that they have tested positive for COVID-19.

Once a diagnosed person signs into the app, a notification is sent to anyone with the app installed who has been within two meters of the ill person for more than 15 minutes within the prior two weeks.

The app will then encourage users to call their provincial health services for advice on what to do, once a user gets a notification that someone who had been nearby tested positive for COVID-19. In Toronto, for example, those who are exposed are instructed to find out how to get tested, and if they do not get tested, should self-isolate for 14 days from the date of the exposure.

Trudeau said the app is currently linked to the Ontario health system, but anyone in Canada can begin using it today and more provinces are joining it soon. He said the Atlantic provinces will be the next to link their health systems to the app and the federal government is in talks with other provinces too.

“I want to be clear: this app isn’t mandatory. It’s completely voluntary to download and to use,” Trudeau said. “And it doesn’t collect your name, address, geolocation, or other personal information.”

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada and his Ontario counterpart both support the application, they said in a joint statement Friday.

“Canadians can opt to use this technology knowing it includes very significant privacy protections,” privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said. He and Ontario information and privacy commissioner Patricia Kosseim said government monitoring of its implementation and effectiveness, coupled with independent oversight, are key to maintaining public trust.

The app works with key codes distributed by Ontario public health officials, government officials said. The key codes will be given by healthcare providers to patients who receive a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Those in other provinces can still download the app and will still be notified if they have been near someone who entered a key code, government officials told reporters.

If someone downloads the app at the time of receiving a positive COVID-19 test result, app users who had been in their vicinity will still be notified when the ill person “uploads” the key code.

Because the positive test result is reported to the app by the user, rather than public health officials, the government characterized the app’s use as voluntary. Government officials also declined to call the app “contact tracing,” since it does not collect personal contact information or trace locations. In a briefing with the media, officials said that it would be up to experts on an advisory council to decide how the information would be used by public health researchers.

The voluntary nature of the app raised questions about whether it will get widespread adoption, since officials said it is prerequisite for the app to be installed by both the person who contracted COVID-19 and those who wish to be notified.

When the app was first announced by Trudeau on June 18, technology lawyer Michael Geist told The Canadian Press that a critical number of people must download the apps for them to be effective. Otherwise, Geist said at the time, people may feel a false sense of security because they are not being notified.

A separate poll from Statistics Canada on Friday indicated that Canadians are split on the use of contact tracing apps, with about a quarter of adults aged 25 to 64 “very likely” to use an app — and another quarter “very unlikely” to do so, mostly citing privacy concerns and location tracing.

The app, designed with open source code by Shopify Inc. employees and security features from BlackBerry Ltd., uses random Bluetooth codes, not location data, government officials said.

However, the Canadian government does store users’ IP addresses for a period of three months to two years, in what it says is a standard protocol for protecting against cyber attacks. Plus, Android users must turn on location services to use the Bluetooth function, although officials said the app’s permission settings do not permit location collection. Government officials said they had been in contact with Google about the potential to turn off location services to use the Android app, but that as of Friday, the setting must be turned on.

The Bluetooth signals sent between app users’ phones are encrypted, stored on each individual phone, and deleted after 15 days. Codes that are “uploaded” to servers when someone reports a positive COVID-19 result are also deleted after 15 days, the app’s privacy policy says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Just Posted

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

Member Terry Parsons’ custom built track vehicle.
Forestburg’s Area 53 Racetrack gears up for action-packed season

Site will also host a portion of the ‘Miles of Mayhem’ event in July

Sabrina Wilde in front of a recently purchased monster truck. Submitted.
Thorsby business women a finalist for 2021 Alberta Women’s Entrepreneurship Award

Sabrina Wilde with Lone Wolf Mechanical is a finalist for the entrepreneurial award.

Grade 12 students at Wetaskiwin Composite High School took place in the annual water fight off school property on June 11, 2021. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Graduating students in Wetaskiwin throw water fight after being told it could result in suspension

Students were told their participation could result in them being barred from graduation ceremonies.

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Airport ground crew offload a plane carrying just under 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine which is developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
1st batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t be released in Canada over quality concerns

The vaccines were quarantined in April before they were distributed to provinces

The arrest south of Winnipeg occurred before Bernier was to arrive at a protest in the city. (Twitter/Maxime Bernier)
Maxime Bernier arrested following anti-rules rallies in Manitoba: RCMP

He’s been charged with exceeding public gathering limits and violating Manitoba’s requirement to self-isolate

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for the G7 Summit, at the airport in Newquay, United Kingdom, Thursday, June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Details on Canada’s vaccine sharing plan coming Sunday, up to 100 million doses

Canada’s high commissioner to the UK says details will come after the G7 summit

Conservative MP Tom Kmiec waves to the crowd during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Newborn daughter’s death inspires MP’s bill on bereavement leave for parents

Conservative MP Tom Kmiec says a day or two off not enough for some grieving parents

Most Read