Here’s a first look at the government’s COVID Alert exposure notification app

The voluntary nationwide app is expected to officially launch soon

The federal government has launched a beta testing program for its upcoming COVID-19 exposure notification app, and we’ve got our hands on both the iOS and Android versions.

The app, which is called ‘COVID Alert,’ seems simple to use and has a basic user inference. Before we get into what the app looks like, it’s important to note that notifications sent during the beta test program are not real, and are simply tests.

When you first open the beta version of the app, it asks for your language preference. You can choose between English and French.

Once you’ve selected your language, the app explains its purpose. It notes that “COVID Alert helps us break the cycle of infection. The app can let people know of possible exposures before any symptoms appear.”

The next step provides information about how the app is designed to protect your privacy. It outlines that COVID Alert does not use GPS or location services, and that it has no way of knowing your location, name or address, health information or your phone’s contacts.

The app then informs users how it works. It notes that COVID Alert uses Bluetooth to exchange random codes with nearby phones.

For context, COVID Alert uses Apple and Google’s notification API, which utilizes Bluetooth technology to share randomized codes with other nearby smartphones. The codes can’t identify users. Apple and Google’s API is being used in several countries, including Australia, Denmark, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

COVID Alert checks a random list of codes submitted by people who have tested positive for the virus. It will then notify users if they have come into contact with one of those people.

The last step to set-up the app asks users to select their province, and to enable COVID-19 exposure logging and notifications.

Once you’ve completed all of the steps, you’ll be notified that you’re all set and that your phone is now running Bluetooth to collect codes from nearby phones.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19, you will receive a one-time key from the COVID-19 test results website, which you then have to enter into the app from the settings menu. From the settings menu, you can also choose to change your province or territory and language preference.

The app is expected to launch in Ontario first, after which it will become available across the country. Ontario Premier Doug Ford stated earlier this week that the app might launch in Ontario on July 24th.

Anyone residing in Canada can currently sign-up to be a part of the beta testing process, which aims to ensure that the app is functioning properly. The government notes that beta test process will take between two to four days, and that participants can stop at any time for any reason.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated that the app is entirely voluntary, and that it is up to Canadians to decide if they are going to download it, but that the app will be most effective if as many people as possible install it.

Trudeau has also stated that the federal government will maintain the database of randomized codes associated with phones that download the app. He insisted the data for this nationwide app will only be held by the government, and that it has worked with its technology partners, like Shopify and Blackberry, to ensure the app remains “private and anonymous.”

Update 24/07/20: The government has clarified that COVID Alert is not a contact tracing app, and is an exposure notification app intended to help Canadians understand when they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.