Feds Rule Out Montreal AI Firm’s Contact Tracing App, Likely to Pick Apple-Google Solution

Mila institute covid 19 app

A COVID-19 contact tracing app developed in Quebec by a leading artificial intelligence (AI) institute, is being ruled out by the federal government.

Montreal-based Mila had its contact tracing app named COVI for iPhone and Android ready as of last month, but according to a new report from The Logic, the federal government has ruled out the idea.

Mila CEO Valérie Pisano told the publication the federal government had picked another contact tracing technology and the company was fine with that decision. Pisana added they were ready to help “play a role” if called to action.

According to an unnamed source speaking to The Logic, the government was concerned about the information collected within the Mila contact tracing app, such as age, sex, health conditions, symptoms, risk level, test results and coarse geographical location, in order to leverage its AI capabilities. The app also has a consent option to allow this data to be sent to COVI anonymously, stored for up to three months.

The Mila app was based on guidelines from Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), with the latter opting for its own centralized contact tracing app seeing data stored on a server, instead of the Apple-Google decentralized solution which only takes place on user devices.

The Logic’s source said numerous provinces instead wanted a less complex solution, such as Apple and Google’s Exposure Notification API, as it only collects proximity of users by using Bluetooth.

With the Mila app out of the running, the federal government will most likely opt for Apple and Google’s contact tracing solution. Currently, a group of volunteers from Ottawa-based Shopify has created a contact tracing app based on Apple and Google’s technology.

The app known as COVID Shield, “is a private, secure, and easy-to-use tool to help governments launch their own exposure notification systems,” explains the creators. Using Apple and Google’s API, COVID Shield would let people know when they could have been possibly exposed to COVID-19, leveraging anonymous proximity data using Bluetooth on iPhone and Android smartphones.

Earlier this week, Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters the government was facing resistance from some provincial governments in regards to a contact tracing app, adding some jurisdictions still wanted traditional phone calls to let people know about possibly being exposed to COVID-19.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month the federal government was working with Apple and Google for a COVID-19 contact tracing app and now it appears the latter solution may be the likely choice. “We will be able to recommend strongly to Canadians a particular app that will help us manage the spread of COVID-19,” Trudeau said in late May.