Canadian e-software commerce company Shopify Inc. is partnering with BlackBerry Ltd. to develop a COVID-19 contact tracing application backed by the Canadian federal government. A group of volunteers from Shopify will develop the tracing app as Canada’s COVID-19 case count reached 100,000 this week.
The COVID Alert app is expected to be available in Canada within the next two weeks. BlackBerry will work to provide security and privacy expertise in the review of the app.
Continuous, widespread testing along with contact tracing have proven to be key in the success of countries like South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan in controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Asia-Pacific region.
In a press briefing, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explained that the app would allow test results from users to be uploaded on a voluntary basis. “It is an extra tool that helps people move forward with confidence that we’re going to be able to track and trace more of the exposure, or the potential sharing of COVID-19 virus, around the country,” said Trudeau who announced the partnership with the Canadian tech companies last week.
Shopify sells e-commerce software to businesses and has risen to be an industry giant, experiencing a whopping 90 percent surge this year, putting it in the number one position on the S&P/TSX Composite Index. Despite the app not being a direct Shopify initiative, the project is being led by volunteers from the company. Company spokeswoman Sheryl So said, “The national app will be owned and operated by the Government of Canada in cooperation with the provinces and territories.”
Data privacy has been a concern with contact tracing apps. However, according to the developers, all user data will remain anonymous and no location or personal information will be collected. Canada’s app will incorporate Bluetooth technology to send out encrypted, anonymized codes to other phones nearby that have the app, explained Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
“Users will be notified if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days,” said Ford. The app will also provide users with quick access to public-health advice and resources, and recommend any necessary actions, such as monitoring for symptoms, self-isolation or appropriate next steps on getting tested.
In order for the app to be effective, enough people will need to download and register it on their mobile phones. Trudeau said any usage would be helpful but results would be “extraordinarily useful” if at least half of Canadians signed up.
Statistics Canada has pledged to provide as many as 1,700 staff to aid in contact tracing across the country once the app is available.
While things have remained relatively tame in Canada, and appear to be improving as the country’s rate of infection has been on a steady decline, the country still reached a milestone of over 100,000 cases recently with over 8,200 deaths. However, the number of cases in Ontario – Canada’s largest province by population – has dipped below 200 for almost one week now. Still, the drive for contact tracing is important, especially as the pandemic threatens to re-emerge in multiple waves in the coming months, and even years.