Contact tracing is in the news again this week because last Friday, the government of Canada released its own app to help fight the spread of the virus. The idea is that your mobile phone’s Bluetooth functionality will share codes with other phones near you. If you happen to get sick with the virus, you enter a code into your phone, which will then prompt a notification to all those who were in close proximity to you for the past two weeks. The app doesn’t collect identifiers other than the codes shared with other phones, meaning that it doesn’t collect your name or even any geolocation data about you.
It was designed with the help of Apple and Google. They also claim to have built in as many privacy protections as possible. So much so that the app was actually endorsed by both the Ontario and federal privacy commissioners, which isn’t something you see every day. While 100% complete anonymity cannot be guaranteed — for example, in smaller locales or where interactions with people will be extremely minimal — I think the app strikes the right balance. I also trust Health Canada — partly because I know they have a pretty strong privacy management program and a solid team.
In the OPC’s statement, they emphasized the app needs to be voluntary, which is so important, and it should be decommissioned if it’s shown not to be effective. Very good points, but to be truly effective in achieving the intended result, it needs to be used by as many people as possible.
It took me a few days to study it myself and read what other privacy pros were concluding about it. Then, in my household, we made the decision to download it, and we turned it on Thursday — as did 1.5 million other Canadians as of Wednesday.
Will you do the same? Maybe you have already. Would love to hear your thoughts.
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