Students question the app’s efficacy and voice concerns over privacy

By Nina Buebos

The COVID Alert app has been available in Manitoba since early October but has received mixed reviews surrounding its efficacy and the privacy for users./NINA BUEBOS

The new COVID Alert mobile app has been available in Manitoba as of Oct. 1 but some people have mixed feelings surrounding efficacy and privacy issues. 

Manitoba is the fifth province to have enabled the free, voluntary app, which uses Bluetooth to notify users when they’ve been exposed to or in contact with somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19.

“It’s just a feeling. It’s too risky privacy-wise. I just don’t like it,” said Salak, a first-year Business Information Technology student. “(Users) need to exchange information through Bluetooth. Like it violates your privacy, in a way. It’s not really effective, in my opinion.”

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, ”personally identifiable information is not collected and stored in a single central location. Their mobile device transmits random IDs that are used to record proximity to another app user’s smartphone.” 

Despite these reassurances, Salak said she thinks the app is too risky.

Salak also said she believes that since the app isn’t mandatory, there aren’t many people using it. She says if the app doesn’t work online, it would not be fair or useful to those with limited means.

Hallie Donegan, a first-year RRC Aircraft and Maintenance student, says it’s just like every other online application.

“Even if you’re being tracked [on the COVID Alert app], you’re already being tracked on every other app, so I don’t see it being a big issue. Maybe it’s just a younger person’s concern over privacy,” said Donegan.

Both Salak and Donegan haven’t received any notifications of possible exposure since downloading the app when it was released in October. They said they believe that when people look into who they surrounded themselves with and do a process of elimination, it would create a stigma against those infected.

There is no way of knowing the number of downloads in each province due to the strong privacy and security protections built into the app, according to the Public Agency of Canada. The COVID Alert app would differ from contact tracing apps, which access a device’s location data and reports to public health authorities.