Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the province’s contact tracing app, ABTraceTogether, is more effective than the federal COVID Alert app.
Speaking to the media on Monday, Kenney said, “ABTraceTogether app connects to Alberta’s contact tracing system, which has led the country in terms of contact tracing. So is, ah, based on the advice received so far, more effective as a public health tool. The federal app would not be connected to our contact tracing system,” according to a transcription we just typed out from this video shared on Global News.
Kenney also echoed its neighbour next door, British Columbia, as expressing “similar concerns” regarding COVID Alert, quoting words from B.C.’s Dr. Bonnie Henry as saying COVID Alert is “non-specific”. Yesterday, B.C. reiterated it favours human contact tracers over the federal COVID Alert app.
While Alberta hasn’t made a final decision says Kenney, he urged people to use COVID Alert outside of Alberta. When Canadians visit Alberta, they should download ABTraceTogether says Kenney. That seems like extra work when one federal app could do the job for exposure notifications.
“One of the reasons why [ABTraceTogether] didn’t achieve the level of widespread use that we were originally hoping for—but frankly neither has the federal app to this point—was because of a sub-optimal user experience, as you know, where the app was operating on the front of people’s phones and consumed a lot of battery power. It was not an optimal user experience,” explained Kenney.
ABTraceTogether Now Works in Background on iPhone
The Alberta premier explained ABTraceTogether was updated on September 28 to let the app run in the background for iPhones. He cited how he downloaded ABTraceTogether on the weekend to his iPhone and how it was “much more user friendly.”
“We encourage people to use that and it connects them into Alberta’s contact tracing system,” explained Kenney.
The ABTraceTogether iPhone app is showing it was updated on September 24, with “added capability to do contact tracing while the application is in the background.”
Recently, COVID Alert was updated with more precise notification features, and it seems this update isn’t good enough for Alberta.
ABTraceTogether is from Deloitte—the same company that is behind the TraceTogether contact tracing app in Singapore. On April 9, 2020, Singapore announced it had open-sourced the TraceTogether app’s source code, to allow other governments to use it–for free.
When Alberta launched ABTraceTogether in May, it said it would spend up to $625,000 for the app.
Canada’s COVID Alert app is based on Google and Apple’s exposure notification framework, which leverages Bluetooth on devices for anonymous “handshakes” in the background. The app does not use GPS info or collect any user data. It has been vetted as safe by Canada’s privacy commissioner and provincial counterparts.
When someone tests positive for COVID-19, they can anonymously alert others that may have been in contact using COVID Alert, by obtaining a one-time use from their provincial health authority.
Provinces currently supporting COVID Alert:
- New Brunswick
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
Still waiting for:
- British Columbia
- Northwest Territories
Recently, the government of Canada acknowledged there was a bug within the COVID Alert app, and urged Canadians to update to iOS 14.0.1 to resolve the issue.
As of November 2, COVID Alert has been downloaded 5.0 million times, with over 3,300 people voluntarily entering in one-time keys.