The federal government’s COVID Alert app has topped 4 million downloads after more provinces got on board with the app over the last few weeks. Further, Canada’s public health website says that more than 1,000 one-time keys have been used as of October 8th.
Back at the beginning of September — and 90 days after COVID Alert launched — the app sat at 2.2 million downloads. These new numbers represent a roughly equivalent increase in downloads over about 40 days, or less than half as long as it took to pass the 2 million mark.
It’s worth keeping in mind that several provinces have officially joined on with COVID Alert and more are set to launch support for the app. Currently, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, P.E.I. and Quebec all allow COVID Alert users to report a COVID-19 diagnosis with the app. B.C. and Nova Scotia also plan to support the app soon.
For those who might still be unfamiliar with COVID Alert, the app is based on Google and Apple’s Exposure Notification system. The system was designed to be interoperable between Android and iOS devices and forms a foundation for countries to build exposure notification apps on.
COVID Alert works by using smartphones’ Bluetooth Low Energy connections to detect other nearby phones and trade unique, anonymous codes. These codes can’t reveal your identity or any other private details such as your location or what you were doing at the time codes were transferred. Instead, these codes serve as a record of each potential close contact you have with someone else near you. The app can trade some information such as the strength and duration of the Bluetooth connection, which can be used to estimate the duration of contact. Smartphones store these codes locally and no one else can see them.
When someone tests positive for COVID-19 in one of the provinces that support the app, they receive a one-time key with the result. They can enter this key into the COVID Alert app to verify their positive test, then upload the local record of potential close contacts from their phone. Again, the record doesn’t identify you or share any personal details. Once uploaded, other smartphones with COVID Alert can check the anonymous codes for matches. If there is a match, the app warns users they were potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19 and offers suggested next steps, such as quarantining or getting tested. All this takes place without revealing who you are or other personal details.
The COVID Alert app has been vetted and approved by both the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC).
If you have not downloaded COVID Alert yet, you can do so for free on both iOS and Android. As COVID case counts continue to rise, please download the app if you are able. It could go a long way in protecting you and your loved ones while also helping curb the spread of the virus.
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