Shopify, Blackberry to Develop COVID-19 Contact Tracing App

Endorsed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the app is entirely voluntary uses Bluetooth tracing as opposed to GPS tracking.

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Need to Know

  • The made-in-Canada contact tracing app was designed in collaboration with Shopify volunteers, Canadian and Ontario Digital Service, and Blackberry. 
  • The app is built off of COVID Shield, an open-sourced tracing app developed by Shopify volunteers. COVID Alert—the name for the government-backed app as it’s being called inside of Ontario—uses Bluetooth API rather than GPS location services to respect user privacy.
  • The app will be entirely voluntary but Prime Minister Trudeau emphasized that the more downloads it gets, the easier it will be to track the virus, thus reducing its spread.

Analysis

Last month the Canadian Government announced plans to endorse a contact tracing app, insisting that contact-tracing is a vital component to the country’s pandemic response. Yesterday in a news brief, Prime Minister Trudeau announced the imminent rollout of COVID Alert, an app made possible by work from Shopify volunteers and Blackberry. 

The voluntary app is built off of COVID Shield, an open-sourced contact tracing app built by Shopify volunteers. Released last month, COVID Shield made headlines with its use of Bluetooth technology to trace and notify possible exposure to the coronavirus vs the traditional GPS location-based services typically used. Opting for Bluetooth API makes the app private and secure as no personal data or locations are stored; a feature that made the Canadian Government take notice and look to integrate it into a nationwide solution.

“Because it’s completely anonymous, because it’s low maintenance, because it is completely respectful of your privacy, — including no location services or geotagging of any sort — people can be confident that this is an easy measure that they can have to continue to keep us all safe as we reopen, as we get more active,” Trudeau said in the briefing. 

Using Bluetooth software, COVID Alert creates an anonymous identification code in the user’s phone sharing it with any phone that also has the app and comes into close proximity. Phones will collect and store codes for 14 days. Health workers help you update your app should you be diagnosed with COVID-19 and any codes you have come in contact with over the last 14 days are notified and asked to contact local health authorities. 

Recently the UK Government made a switch, ditching its current contact tracing app and opting for a model based on tech by Google and Apple. Like Canada’s COVID Alert, the Google-Apple approach does not allow apps to store or share user data, making it a favorite among privacy advocates. 

COVID Alert will be available in all provinces across Canada in July. 

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