ABTraceTogether: Alberta unveils new COVID-19 contact tracing app
Published Friday, May 1, 2020 10:02AM MDT Last Updated Friday, May 1, 2020 4:35PM MDT
EDMONTON -- Alberta health authorities say the province's new ABTraceTogether mobile app will improve Alberta's COVID-19 contact tracing and further limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The free app is voluntary to use and employs bluetooth technology to help Alberta Health track down people who may have been exposed to a carrier of COVID-19.
"We must identify all cases, as soon as possible. Identify all locations where spread may be occurring and put measures in place to stop that spread in all those locations," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said last week.
"The benefit of this app is in speeding up information gathering to support the contact tracing work that our public health workers are already doing."
Current contact tracing involves interviewing a COVID-19 patient to find out where he or she has been in the past two weeks along with who they have come into prolonged contact with over that time.
But, such interviews are entirely dependent on patient's memories and willingness to disclose information.
The app aims to augment the process by creating a digital exchange of information between app users when they come within close proximity of each other.
Patients who test positive for COVID-19 will be asked to install and use the app but it is not mandatory for them or any other Albertans.
Contact tracing can help limit spread of the coronavirus by identifying potentially infected individuals and ensuring they take proper protocols to avoid passing the illness on to others.
Its developers say it draws from a similar Singapore-based open-source app and believe the Alberta version to be the first of its kind in North America.
HOW IT WORKS
The app uses Bluetooth technology to identify other nearby phones that also have the app installed and are in close proximity to each other for 15 minutes or more.
Should a user test positive for COVID-19, his or her location data can be uploaded to Alberta Health Services and then used to track their prior location as well as other potentially infected users.
The data is stored on the phone itself and can only be shared with AHS by a user who voluntarily does so.
The province says the app is intended to supplement existing contact tracing procedures, not replace them.
Developers says the app doesn't share identifiable information between users and that information like age, sex and postal code are not collected.
The province says a privacy impact assessment has been submitted and there is an active consultation with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
"Knowing in plain language what types of personal information may be collected, how that information will be used and in what circumstances it will be disclosed will assist people in choosing to opt-in to using the app," Jill Clayton, Alberta's information and privacy commissioner, wrote in a statement to CTV News last week.
Similar apps have been used in Australia and parts of Asia.
It is currently available for both Android and iPhone users.
With files from Ryan White