Last Updated on August 14, 2020

The federal government has finally launched its COVID-19 exposure app after delays to make it user-friendly.

Merely eight days after it went into beta testing, residents of Ontario are now able to voluntarily download the COVID Alert app through the Apple App Store or Google Play. The application aims to help control the spread of COVID-19 in Canada by informing a user when they have been in contact with another user who has recently tested positive for the coronavirus.

According to the government, the application does this without collecting or tracking your personal information, though some users remain skeptical.

Given that the app does not collect your personal data, COVID Alert has been described as an “exposure notification app,” rather than a contact-tracing app.

“This app does not replace contact tracing — a critical public health function. Contact tracing will continue to be performed manually by local public health authorities,” the federal government said in a statement.

While government officials aim to make the contact-tracing application available across Canada, it is not yet known when it will be accessible outside Ontario. Be that as it may, government officials are advising Canadian residents to download the app as soon as possible, even if it is not currently available in their area.

“Right now, it’s connected to the Ontario health system, but we know other provinces will be joining in soon. So people across the country can and should download it today,” said Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau. “This is another tool to protect your health.”

How Does the Coronavirus Exposure App Work?

As with every other application used to track COVID-19, the COVID Alert app utilizes Bluetooth to exchange random codes with nearby smartphones every 5-minutes. If a user tests positive for the virus, they must enter a diagnosis key into the app given to them by a public health official.

The app then checks a list of random codes every single day from people who have tested positive. If you have been near someone who has tested positive in the past 14-days, the COVID Alert app will notify you.

The application will also record exposure if you are closer than 2 metres for 15-minutes or more.

Is Your Privacy Protected Using the COVID Alert App?

According to the official website, the COVID Alert application has no way of knowing:

  • Your location.
  • Your name or address.
  • Your phone’s contact.
  • Your health information.
  • The health information of anyone you have come into contact with.

But what do the experts think?

After reading the fine print of COVID Alert’s privacy and permission settings, Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario Patricia Kosseim and Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien support the use of the app in Canada.

“Canadians can opt to use this technology knowing it includes very significant privacy protections,” said Therrien in a statement. “I will use it.”

Patricia Kosseim also added that she supports the use of exposure notification technology to manage the spread of the virus.

“This app will only work if people trust their personal information will be protected and choose to use the technology. Based on our review of the app and acceptance of our recommendations, I am satisfied that there are strong measures built in to help protect individual privacy,” stated Commissioner Kosseim.

Is the COVID Alert App Voluntary?

While Canadian residents have been encouraged to download the COVID Alert app, it is not compulsory.

“I want to be clear: this app isn’t mandatory. It’s completely voluntary to download and to use,” said PM Justin Trudeau. “And it doesn’t collect your name, address, geolocation, or other personal information.”

Other provinces in Canada have been working to develop similar applications to prevent and manage the spread of COVID-19. Back in May, Alberta released a contact tracing app called ABTraceTogether that allows you to know if you have been exposed to the virus. Similar to COVID Alert, this app works by telling a user about their risk of exposure and the actions they should take if they come into contact with someone with the virus.

At this moment in time, the COVID Alert app is only linked to the Ontario health system. Having said that, anyone living in Canada can download the application right now and utilize it once more provinces link their health systems to it.