If all goes to plan, Canada’s COVID Alert exposure notification app might see its first debut on Friday, July 24, according to what Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters this week.
On Wednesday, Health Canada launched a beta test of the COVID Alert app for iOS and Android users. Here’s a quick look at the COVID Alert app and how it works on an iPhone.
How to sign up for the COVID Alert app beta test? Just click here and you should receive a TestFlight notification email within 24 hours. This is Apple’s app that lets you beta test applications from developers on your iPhone and other devices.
COVID Alert says you can take a screenshot of the app at any time and share feedback with the federal government. There are options to launch the app in both French and English. The app is powered by exposure notification technology from Apple and Google.
COVID Alert does a fairly simple job of explaining how the app can “stop the spread of COVID-19”. It explains, “COVID Alert helps us break the cycle of infection. The app can let people know of possible exposures before any symptoms appear. That way, we can take care of ourselves and protect our communities.”
COVID Alert says your privacy is protected, detailing it does not use GPS or location services, while it does not have access to your name, address, phone contacts, health info, or health info of people you’re near.
The app utilizes Bluetooth on your iPhone to “exchange random codes with nearby phones.” Daily, the app “checks a list of random codes from people who tell the app they tested positive.” Then, if you’ve had close contact with one of these people in the past 14 days, you’ll be notified.
The app will ask for your permission “to start logging random codes” when you’re close to other phones, and access date, duration and signal strength of these random codes. The app explicitly states these random codes never leave your device.
Optional data within COVID Alert is entering in your region (which will never be shared with anyone) and also allow for push notifications from the app. Once set up, the app will tell you “COVID Alert is active” in green coloured font. In B.C., there is “no reporting yet in your area”, as most people probably haven’t been using this in our area yet (we’ve also been living like a hermit for the past few months).
Again, downloading and installing COVID Alert is completely voluntary. But the federal government’s decision to go with Apple and Google’s solution, which has data remain on your device and not uploaded to a central server, is a good one in our opinion.
The fact this Apple/Google solution allows Bluetooth to work in the background means COVID Alert will do its job when your phone is in standby and screen is locked, preserving battery life versus other apps, which require you to leave them on and in the foreground at all times.
Will you be downloading and installing COVID Alert when it is released publicly? Let us know how your beta experience is with the app.
Update: As those running iOS 14 beta have let us know in the comments, Apple’s Exposure Notification API isn’t available in iOS 14 beta; users are recommended to stick with iOS 13.6 beta to see functionality.