New mobile app to help notify Canadians of potential COVID-19 exposure

Over the past several months, Canadians have been following public health advice and doing their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Now, as the government is taking steps to ease restrictions and safely restart the economy, it needs to continue to work with Canadians to contain the virus and keep Canadians safe and healthy.

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and the Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, today announced that COVID Alert, a new national mobile app, is now available to Canadians for free download. The app, first developed in Ontario, helps notify users if they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Use of COVID Alert is voluntary, and serves as another tool to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Once the app is fully functioning in their province or territory, users who test positive for COVID-19 will receive a one-time key from their health authority that they can enter into the app. When the key is entered, COVID Alert will notify other users who may have come in close contact with that person for at least 15 minutes in the past 14 days, so they can contact their local public health authority for guidance.

To safeguard the confidentiality and privacy of all Canadians, the app uses strong measures to protect any data it collects, and does not track a user’s location or collect personally identifiable information. The Privacy Commissioners of Canada and Ontario were consulted on the development of COVID Alert, to ensure the highest level of privacy for Canadians using the app.

The Government of Canada has been working in close partnership with the Province of Ontario to launch the COVID Alert app. Health authorities in Ontario will be the first to begin distributing one-time keys. The Government of Canada is also working with the other provinces and territories to bring their jurisdictions on board in the coming weeks and months.

An expert Advisory Council will ensure the app meets the highest standards in public health outcomes, privacy, and technology. The members of the Council reflect Canada’s regional and cultural diversity, and cover a wide range of expertise, including health, privacy, data governance, science, and innovation. Their advice will inform the implementation and rollout phases of the app.
The app has undergone a security assessment by BlackBerry and the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security. All data provided to the app will be securely stored and protected.

The Government of Canada has taken extensive steps to ensure that citizens’ privacy and data are protected. Given the importance the government assigns to these issues, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner has been consulted on this initiative.
COVID Alert is a collaboration between Health Canada, the Canadian Digital Service, the Province of Ontario, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. It builds upon an exposure notification solution developed by Shopify volunteers in coordination with the nonprofit Linux Foundation Public Health. It is also the work of a team of developers from across the country.