A new COVID-19 tracing app launched last Friday by the federal government–amidst much fanfare and high hopes–is already coming under sharp criticism.
At least one expert says the “COVID-Alert” app will be inaccessible to many older Canadians and members of marginalized groups because of its makeup.
The app, which the government says over 1.18 million Canadians had downloaded by Sunday night, requires users to have Apple or Android phones made in the last five years, and a relatively new operating system.
[1/2] COVID Alert, the national exposure notification app, is another tool Canadians can use to help slow the spread of #COVID19 and prevent future outbreaks.
More info: https://t.co/qRlXketE1w pic.twitter.com/cDCcrfnjVl
— Health Canada and PHAC (@GovCanHealth) July 31, 2020
Christopher Parsons, a senior research associate at Citizen Lab, part of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Policy, says that leaves a lot of people out.
“The worst affected by (the pandemic) are Black, Indigenous, people of colour, people who often have a lower socio-economic bracket. Who’s not going to be able to install the application? That same group … that’s a problem,” Parsons told The Canadian Press.
And, Parsons added, for a contact tracing app to properly work, it requires 65 to 80 per cent of all Canadians to use it.
Parsons said the current version of the app makes that impossible.
The app, whose launch was delayed in early July for unspecified reasons, is designed to track the location of phones relative to each other without collecting personal data anywhere centrally.
Users are notified if their phones have recently been near the phone of a person who later volunteers that they have tested positive for COVID-19.
Parsons says criticism should be directed at the federal government, not those who designed the app.He believes the technical aspects of the application, such as its ease of use and its performance in both official languages, has been done well.
“On the technical end, the developers deserve to be congratulated,” he said. “This is a failure of policy. The government should have seen this, I hope someone has, they should have predicted it, I hope someone has, and they should have done something to try and start fixing it.”
The issue of needing an app that works with older smartphones was known from the start, Parsons told CP.
The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat referred questions about the technical requirements of the app to Google and Apple but noted the app is only one tool to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Neither Apple nor Google returned requests from CP for comment.
The app is currently only linked to the Ontario health-care system, with the Atlantic provinces set to be the next provinces to link up.
With files from The Canadian Press, RCI