Digital wellness / September 16, 2020

Limiting the spread of COVID-19 with technology

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - Social Purpose Programs, For Good and TELUS Wise

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As part of our commitment to keep our team, customers and communities safe and connected during the pandemic, TELUS is supporting the Government of Canada in its efforts to encourage all Canadians to download and use the new COVID Alert app.

The COVID Alert app, available for free from the App Store or Google Play, launched at the end of July and has seen 2.2 million downloads since. Intended to help break the cycle of infection, the COVID Alert app can let people know of possible exposures before any symptoms appear.

How does the app work?

In a nutshell, the app works by using Bluetooth and generating random codes which are exchanged with others who also have the app and are nearby, every 5 minutes. Users who test positive for COVID-19 can indicate that they’ve tested positive in the app, and the app will then notify other users who have been within 2 metres for more than 15 minutes (in the last 2 weeks) of the possible exposure, with instructions on what to do next. No details are shared about the source of the exposure. This short, Government of Canada video illustrates how the app works.

Note that while the ability to report a COVID-19 positive diagnosis is currently only available in Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador, Canadians nationwide are encouraged to download the app now in anticipation of the self reporting function being made available nationally in the near future.

As of Oct 13, 2020 this feature is now available in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. For the most up to date list of provinces where you can report a diagnosis, please visit the Government of Canada website.

What about user privacy?

COVID Alert does not use GPS or track your location. Further, it does not collect location or personal data, including your name, address, phone contacts and health information. If you report a COVID positive diagnosis, other users are simply informed about a possible exposure and do not get any information about who you are, or where and when you were near them. Reassuringly, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrien, has reviewed the app and supports its use. Learn more about how your privacy is protected.

Downloading COVID Alert and other apps safely on your phone

Earlier this year we wrote about how to protect yourself from COVID-19 related fraud. Unfortunately, with the ongoing roll out of this app, it can be expected that fraudsters may try to trick people into downloading bogus contact tracing apps. Here are some tips to help you stay safe when downloading COVID Alert or any other app:

  • Download apps from official app stores. Don’t click on links in text messages or emails that encourage you to download contact tracing or other apps - instead, download them directly from Apple’s App Store or Google Play. Remember, researching apps before downloading them can help protect phones from malware and viruses.
  • Manage permission and privacy settings. While you can be confident in the privacy protections that come with the COVID Alert app, some apps and social networking sites allow its developers to access your personal information like your contact list, location or photos. Always read and update permission and privacy settings to control how your information is used and who is able to see it.
  • Keep apps up to date. Out of date apps can put you at risk because hackers may be able to exploit security vulnerabilities that are typically fixed in newer versions of apps.

Protect yourself and others

Using the COVID Alert app is completely voluntary, but will aid the pandemic response efforts significantly if enough people have it. Ideally, at least 60% of the population needs to use the app for it to be highly effective, but more recent research from Oxford University suggests even a 15% uptake would have a positive impact.

Of course, downloading and using COVID Alert is just one of the ways we can do our part to limit the spread of the virus and help prevent future outbreaks. It is still advised that you follow all public health guidelines in your area. For more information to help protect yourself and others, please visit the Government of Canada’s COVID Alert website.

Tags:
Apps & gaming
Seniors & tech
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