How an Alberta contact finder could help fight COVID-19

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Albertans will soon be able to use an application that could help find out if they have been in contact with someone with COVID-19.

The province says it is in the final testing phase of the new contact finder app.

“It just brings our decades-old approach to public health into the 21st century,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Thursday.

The app is optional and the provincial government has said the information it collects is stored on people’s phones, not with them.

“The advantage of this app is that it speeds up the gathering of information to support the contact tracing work that our public health workers are already doing,” said Hinshaw.

The app would use Bluetooth technology to track when you come close to other phones that are also running the app.

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The idea is – if a person using it has a positive result for COVID-19 – the health authorities could in turn inform all the telephones that had been near this person, and potentially determine where the infection had occurred produced.

READ MORE:
How does COVID-19 contact tracking work? Alberta doctor explains

An expert said that a key problem with the Bluetooth signal is that it acts as an “identifier”.

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“Your phone always sends the same ID – and therefore someone could use it to track you,” said Urs Hengartner, associate professor of computer science at the University of Waterloo, on Friday.

“This is why it is very important not to broadcast the same Bluetooth identifier continuously. Instead, it should be a random value – a value that changes over time. “

He said these apps would never be perfect.

“There are going to be so-called false positives and false negatives,” he said.

“Imagine you live in an apartment building – and therefore your neighbor ends up with COVID-19 and Bluetooth goes through the walls. Now your phone tells you to be more careful because you may also have COVID-19.

“There is also a wall between you and your neighbor, so you could not have been infected – it would be a false positive, so people are warned and anxious by mistake.” “

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Hengartner also noted that there must be a high number of people also using the app for it to be effective.

“I’ve seen some numbers say that at least 60% of the population needs this app,” he said. “Popular applications are generally present on 10% of users’ smartphones.

“Singapore deployed to some extent, and they only had 11% of people using this app – and they ended up with a second wave. “

READ MORE:
Albertan launches contact finder to help fight COVID-19

Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton said she has not yet received detailed information about the application, although she has received “a high-level overview program objectives at the beginning of the month. “

“It will be important that the Government of Alberta provide Albertans with a clear and easy-to-understand description of privacy practices,” said Clayton in a statement.

“Knowing in plain language what types of personal information may be collected, how it will be used and under what circumstances it will be disclosed will help people choose to choose to use the app. “

The province has said the app will be available in the coming weeks after testing is complete.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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