Despite over 260,000 downloads, Alberta’s ABTraceTogether contact tracing app for COVID-19 has only traced “approximately 20 cases”, according to the province (that translates to actually 19 times).
According to CBC News, the Alberta government also mentioned ABTraceTogether may not work in the background on iPhones, despite the government boasting it had found a workaround recently on November 2. Further testing is needed says the government, noting it will keep testing the app on iPhones.
Apple and Google have their own joint Exposure Notification framework for COVID-19 apps. This allows apps to work in the system background, preserving battery life. They are only allowing one app per country to use their Exposure Notification API. In Canada, that’s the federal government’s COVID Alert app. Sadly, Apple won’t be making any concessions in this regard, if the Alberta government thinks it can sway the iPhone maker.
After the Alberta government made its claims about an iPhone workaround, a software developer in the province, Mathieu Fenniak, put the app to the test. His research concluded to essentially say ABTraceTogether does not run in the background on iPhones.
When asked by CBC News about the claims of ABTraceTogether working in the background on iPhone, along with sharing the tests from Fenniak, Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s press secretary, Steve Buick, said it would look into the findings “to identify if it is accurate or if additional improvements can be made.”
There’s no way the Alberta government can program ABTraceTogether to work in the background on iPhone as COVID Alert does, as the latter has special system access. Alberta can say whatever it wants, but it needs to adopt COVID Alert just like B.C. should, especially at a time when record COVID-19 cases are spiking in both provinces.
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
As of November 15, COVID Alert has been downloaded 5.2 million times, with 4,894 people voluntarily entering in one-time keys.