To Trace or Not to Trace

Canada’s COVID-19 tracing app can’t guarantee long-term privacy protection


All over the world, people are starting to use contact tracing apps. While each app might work slightly differently from the others, the premise is the same: They will alert you if you have been in contact with anyone that has been infected with COVID-19.

The Government of Canada is encouraging us to use COVID Alert. However, after reading about it, I would simply not use this app.

This specific app uses Bluetooth to exchange codes with phones around you. These codes are random and checked every day. There is a list of codes from people who have tested positive for COVID-19, and if you have been near any of those codes, then the app will notify you. Seems simple enough, but anyone who has used any government website can attest that anything the government recommends is not as simple as it seems. There doesn’t seem to be enough information about how much power the government has to change the privacy terms of this app if it deems it necessary. We have to remember that this is just the start of the pandemic, as signs point to us being in it for the long run.

Most of us are used to our technology, having all of our personal information. We ask Google what the weather will be like the next day while Alexa turns off the lights in our homes, and Facebook shows us ads about something we had been talking about just ten minutes prior. Health has been one of the things that — up to this point — has maintained a great deal of privacy. Most of the time, we do not have to share any health information with anyone unless we choose to do so, but this pandemic can change how we as a society, approach privacy regarding our health.

While the government assures us through the information available on their website that this app will not be able to know  “your location, your name or address, your phone’s contacts, your health information or the health information of anyone you’re near,” it also states that it is extremely unlikely that you could be identified while using this app. Extremely unlikely, but not impossible. It also says that, while the app would not have access to your GPS, Google may have access to your location. All of this seems rather vague, and it does not give any convincing guarantee that our information will be kept private.

While it would seem that an app like this is a good idea, it is important to always think of the risks that this could have personally and on a grander scale. Apps like these are going to be paving the way for all sorts of others, undoubtedly continuing the ongoing trend of making people feel more and more comfortable with losing little bits of our privacy at a time. I am not in any rush to live in an episode of Black Mirror, but the really important question is, are you?


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