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Canadian Researchers to Test Privacy, Effectiveness of Contact Tracing Apps with New Tool

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According to CTV News, a team of researchers from London, Ontario’s Western University has created a tool designed to critically evaluate COVID-19 contact tracing apps for their effectiveness and overall respect for users’ privacy.

With the virus spreading at an unprecedented rate, contact tracing had to be digitized — this resulted in the inception of exposure notification apps like Canada’s COVID Alert and Alberta’s contact tracing app, ABTraceTogether, based on Singapore’s tracing app.

With apps such as ABTraceTogether continuously collecting data on a user’s location and who they come into contact with, privacy concerns have become a major issue.

Western University Computer Science professor Anwar Haque and research associate Rashed Nekvi, have created a new tool to give a privacy score to these apps. The score is calculated by comparing the app’s features with the stipulations of federal privacy laws and international privacy guidelines established by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

“Our analytical tool automates the assessment of a number of privacy preservation features and assigns a score to how well the app can secure the personal data of its users,” said professor Haque. While the tool is being developed for Canada, it can also be used by other governments.

While apps such as ABTraceTogether sends your data to a central server, COVID Alert is completely anonymous as all data remains on your device.

Alberta is sticking to ABTraceTogether and will not be adopting COVID Alert, just like British Columbia. Both governments are holding out, despite public outcry asking them to support the national exposure notification 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:

  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Ontario
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
  • Nova Scotia
  • Prince Edward Island

Still waiting for:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nunavut
  • Yukon

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.

Download links: 

As of November 10, COVID Alert has been downloaded 5.1 million times, with 4,168 people voluntarily entering in one-time keys.

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