The Exposure Notification API developed by Apple and Google is beginning to gain traction outside of the United States. This week, Health Canada has released its new COVID Alert application, which allows citizens to report positive COVID-19 test results and be notified if they’ve been exposed to the virus.
Health Canada is the department responsible for federal health policy and is overseen by the Minister of Health. Apple only allows public health agencies like Health Canada to access the Exposure Notification API. That is, not anyone can simply build an app using the API.
The COVID Alert app works much like you’d expect it to. By using the Exposure Notification API, the app uses Bluetooth to exchange random identifiers with nearby phones and subsequently checks against a list of identifiers from people who have reported a positive test.
You can also report your own positive COVID-19 test via the COVID Alert app:
If you test positive for COVID-19 you will receive a one-time key with your diagnosis to enter into COVID Alert. The app asks permission to share your random codes from the last 14 days with a central server. Other phones using COVID Alert check the central server periodically throughout the day. If they recorded any codes that match the codes in the central server, their user will be notified that they were exposed.
Health Canada emphasizes that the COVID Alert app puts privacy first and has no way of accessing:
- Your location — COVID Alert does not use GPS or location services
- Your name or address
- The place or time you were near someone
- If you’re currently near someone who was previously diagnosed
One incredibly important thing to keep in mind is that this COVID Alert application, or any application built using Apple’s Exposure Notification API, will not work on iOS 14. Both the developer and public betas of iOS 14 lack support for the API, which we covered in detail here.
The COVID-19 Exposure Notification API developed by Apple and Google is slowly gaining adoption outside of the United States. COVID-19 contact tracing apps using the API have been released in Ireland and Switzerland. The United States is taking a state-by-state approach to COVID-19 contact tracing, and no states have released an app using the Google and Apple API.
The COVID Alert app is available to both iPhone and Android users in Canada. You can download it on the App Store or Google Play. The app was originally scheduled to be released earlier this month but ended up being delayed by several weeks. A beta version was previously available to a small number of users.
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