Laurentian U. tech expert on COVID-19 app: ‘Not enough people are using...

Laurentian U. tech expert on COVID-19 app: ‘Not enough people are using it’


Aaron Langille, a professor of computer science at Laurentian University says Canada’s COVID-19 app has been helpful for people using it, but still needs to reach more people before it becomes effective. 

“Most of the reports that I found said that there’s been about 2 to 2.25 million downloads of the Canadian COVID app with a population of 40 million,” Langille said.  

“That’s about five per cent. So not a lot of Canadians have really downloaded the app just yet. And it remains to be seen how many more will will.”

Langille said he was curious to find out how many Canadians are aware of the app. 

“Other countries like Scotland, which has a population of about 5 million and about 1 million people are using their app, which is still only about 20 per cent.” 

“But their government is saying that actually that’s enough for the app to be fairly effective… in other countries like Germany are saying, again, not enough people are using it.”

Other countries have opted out of tracking COVID-19 cases by app, or pulled them off the market after discovering privacy breaches or programming glitches.

“But for the most part, it appears to be more of just a use case and not enough people are downloading it and using it,” Langille said.

Aaron Langille is a professor at Laurentian University in Sudbury. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

How it works:

When users download the government of Canada’s COVID-19 app, they’re asked to enter their location. If they test positive for the virus, health teams provide the user with a one-time code they can enter into the app.

The app isn’t tracking any other personal data, and relies on Bluetooth technology to broadcast a signal. The same technology is present in other COVID-19 apps around the world.

“Basically what they do is they generate a random code every five minutes and it sort of broadcasts from your phone,” Langille said. “So the COVID app, it runs all the time and it broadcasts these random codes. And along with the code, it broadcasts whether or not the app has been notified of a positive or negative COVID test.”

Langille said people concerned about privacy don’t have to be too concerned about the app having access to personal data.

“The only thing that gets transmitted is this identifier, this unique identifier that changes every five minutes,” Langille said. “And whether or not there’s a positive or negative test on the phone.”

“And it is important to note that since it’s Bluetooth technology, this is the same technology that connects your wireless headphones to your phone and your wireless keyboard and a lot of your wireless devices.”

“It has about a 30 foot range. So if you’re not within 30 feet of another phone, you’re broadcasting kind of to no one,” Langille said.

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