Politics

COVID-19 tracing app starts beta testing after three-week delay

The federal government says a smartphone app meant to warn users if they've been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 is now in beta testing.

Canadian Digital Service seeking users to help test out COVID Alert app

The government of Canada's national contact tracing app is built on COVID Shield, seen here, an open sourced tool developed by a group of volunteers from Shopify. (COVID Shield)

A Canadian smartphone app meant to warn users if they've been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 is now in beta testing.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in June that the app would be ready for testing in Ontario alone starting early this month. The trial to look for bugs and other problems was delayed for reasons the government has never specified.

Now, the Canadian Digital Service — an agency that puts federal services online — is asking people to sign up and put the app through its paces over two to four days.

"We're testing the app and not you," the agency's notice says. Participants will be asked to complete certain tasks with the app and report on how well it works for them.

When it's fully functional, the "COVID Alert" app is supposed to track phones' locations relative to each other without collecting personal data anywhere centrally, using digital identifications unique to each phone.

Then users can be told if their phones have recently been near the phone of a person who later volunteers that they have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

In the test phase, the agency says the app will send false alerts just to make sure the system works.

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