Following initial privacy and security concerns, the Federal and Ontario privacy commissioners have finished their assessment of the country’s new COVID-19 exposure notification app and indicate they back its usage. Commissioners say that the federally developed app has met all of their approvals after experts and lawmakers assessed privacy concerns related to contact tracing apps in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.
On Friday, Daniel Therrien, Privacy Commissioner of Canada, stated that Canadians could opt to use the technology as it has very important privacy protections. He added that he would use it. Though the app does not track a user’s location itself or use GPS, it is designed to inform users when they are in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Every time two persons who have the app physically come close to one another, the app creates random codes and uses Bluetooth to ping other users’ phones and exchange these codes.
On Monday, Carmi Levy, a technology analyst stated that it is kind of handshake electronically, meaning that the app can notify to anybody who come close enough to that person to get the particular code within the last 14 days if people with the app reports that they have COVID-19. Levy added that it gives people awareness of when they have crossed paths with someone when it’s problematic, which can let them know that they might want to head for the testing centre.
No other person will get any information about a person or the time he/she were near them. As other countries search for methods to control new infections, for months, privacy watchdogs have sounded alarms concerning possible security risks related to contact tracing apps. In May, in a joint statement, privacy commissioners all over Canada advised their respective governments of key privacy principles required to safeguard the personality of users and their data. The commissioners say it has been developed with robust safeguards and the use of the app is voluntary. Although no official information has been announced, the federal government has decided to include the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) in an audit of the app after it is up and running.
Meanwhile, several Twitter users have stated that the app requests far less access to a users’ phone and private data than apps such as Facebook and TikTok. On Sunday, Michael Geist wrote in a blog post that the Canadian COVID Alert app is ultimate as outstanding for what it does not do as for what it does. He added that the voluntary app does not collect personal information nor provide the government (or anyone else) with location information. Geist is a law professor at the University of Ottawa and the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law.
Geist added that it is very low risk from a privacy perspective. The privacy safeguards in combination with the public health benefits of having the app persuaded him to download the app into his own phone. He concluded that what influenced the decision to adopt an exposure notification app which raises fewer privacy concerns was the relative ineffectiveness of contact tracing apps elsewhere.