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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 20, 2020
Canada’s contact-tracing app is up and running in Ontario, and the Atlantic region is next in line for a rollout.
That’s what the prime minister said Friday as he encouraged Canadians to download the free app, which tracks phones by location and alerts people if they’ve been near someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
“Health experts say that if enough people sign up, this app can help prevent future outbreaks of COVID-19 in Canada,” Justin Trudeau said.
Almost 1.2 million Canadians had downloaded “COVID Alert” on their Apple or Android devices as of Sunday evening.
Some have tried to do so but couldn’t because their smartphones were too old. This is an issue the federal government must address, as the app needs to be available to all, not just those who can afford to keep up with new releases from Big Tech. There is also the matter of including and protecting those who don’t use smartphones.
But if you own a smartphone, have or will you download the app?
It’s a topic of conversation for sure, especially since Trudeau’s announcement.
Some people on the East Coast aren't concerned. They’ve already got the app on their phone, waiting for their provincial health system to sync up.
Others remain apprehensive and unconvinced due to privacy worries. They’re anxious about the app being, or eventually becoming, a Big Brother that tracks their every move.
We expressed similar reluctance in this space when provincial governments started pursuing contact-tracing apps in May.
Our editorial followed a letter from the country’s privacy commissioners to governments. They said such apps should be voluntary, time-limited, and set to record location data only.
The commissioners also suggested data collected to fight COVID-19 should be used for no other purpose.
It appears, in developing COVID Alert, the feds heeded this advice or were already in line with those rules of engagement.
According to the app, it collects random codes from your phones and phones near you for 14 days. Those codes are stored and used for the purpose of notifying you or others about possible COVID-19 exposure.
It states COVID Alert has no way of knowing your location, name or address, contacts or health information.
Daniel Therrien, Canada’s privacy commissioner, said he felt the app contained “very significant privacy protections.”
“I will use it,” he said in a joint statement with Ontario’s privacy commissioner.
But will you? Do the steps taken to protect your privacy and the endorsement of someone like Therrien provide enough comfort?
We think it should.
While downloading COVID Alert remains voluntary — and we are not calling for it to be mandatory — it’s in our collective best interest for as many people as possible to install the app on their phone (and also for the federal government to address any accessibility issues as quickly as possible).
The benefits far outweigh the risks in protecting each other and fighting future waves of COVID-19.