The Government of Canada has released its voluntary COVID Alert exposure notification app for download for iOS and Android users. The app uses technology from Apple and Google to help users be alerted if they were in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Here’s the iOS app description:
COVID Alert uses Bluetooth to exchange random codes with nearby phones. It does not use or access any location data. COVID Alert works by determining how far away other phones are by the strength of their Bluetooth signal.
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.
If you test positive for COVID-19 you will receive a one-time key with your diagnosis to enter into COVID Alert. The app asks permission to share your random codes from the last 14 days with a central server.
Other phones using COVID Alert check the central server periodically throughout the day. If they recorded any codes that match the codes in the central server, their user will be notified that they were exposed.
The app clearly states COVID Alert has no way of knowing your location as it does not use GPS, your name or address, the place and time you were near someone or if you are currently around someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
“Provincial and territorial governments are working to support COVID Alert across Canada. In some places, people cannot yet report a COVID-19 diagnosis through this app,” explains the app.
The goal is to have as many people as possible install COVID Alert for exposure notification efforts. The app was developed by Health Canada and the Canadian Digital Service, leveraging the exposure notification framework by Apple and Google, which allows Bluetooth to be used in the background.
Both tech giants are only allowing one app per country to use its API, which allows Bluetooth to work in the system background, unlike other apps that must remain open and with a device’s screen on (such as Alberta’s contact tracing app).
The release comes after a delay earlier this month when COVID Alert was supposed to release in Ontario. Earlier this week, The Logic reported COVID Alert could debut this week and it definitely has, after the app started beta testing last week.
According to Health Canada, “During this first phase, health authorities in Ontario will begin distributing one-time keys to people who test positive for the virus, with other provinces and territories coming on board soon.”
Again, in order for COVID Alert to work properly, other health authorities in other provinces and territories will have to agree to join the effort.
In our brief hands-on with the beta, COVID Alert is a very simple app to use and explains clearly to the user its overall purpose to get notified of COVID-19 exposures.
[2/2] During this first phase, health authorities in Ontario will begin distributing one-time keys to people who test positive for the virus, with other provinces and territories coming on board soon. https://t.co/HLNqjSI9ki#COVID19
— Health Canada and PHAC (@GovCanHealth) July 31, 2020
COVID Alert was developed with help from a group of volunteers from Shopify. The app is open source and those curious can check out the code on Github.
It’s worth noting COVID Alert won’t work if you’re running iOS 14 beta as the latter disables contact tracing apps–for now.