By Scott Zielsdorf

The provincial government released its contact tracing app “ABTraceTogether” earlier this month, making Alberta the first Canadian province to implement a tracing application for COVID-19 cases.

The app is a new method of COVID-19 containment that digitally traces who a person has come into contact with. This allows Alberta Health Services to quickly notify users of any potential exposure to the virus so that they may isolate sooner.

The idea of contact tracing apps being used in Canada has received some backlash on social media sites like Twitter. One such incident occurred when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated he hopes Canada will eventually adopt one unified contact tracing app across the country.

“It is our expectation that when the time comes for that to be released…we will be able to recommend strongly to Canadians a particular app that will help us manage the spread of COVID-19,” Trudeau said during one of his daily media briefings.

Responses to this notion have been mixed, with some Twitter users believing contact tracing apps could be used by the government to track their every move. A few Twitter commentators went so far as to call the idea “Orwellian”, suggesting that contact tracing is the gateway to the society depicted in Orwell’s 1984 novel.

Certainly most people wouldn’t want to see Canada turned into a surveillance state, fortunately contact tracing apps like ABTraceTogether don’t work like that. The app’s connections are purely local, meaning it operates on a phone-to-phone basis, not phone-to-server. All data is only stored locally on the app for up to 21 days, and does not store location information whatsoever. As it stands ABTraceTogether could not be used to trace a person’s location, and Google currently does that anyways.

The app works by using your phone’s bluetooth connection. By keeping your bluetooth on and ABTraceTogether’s scanning function active, your device stores who your phone comes into contact with. In the event that someone using the app tests positive for COVID-19 they would be asked by AHS to voluntarily submit their data. The only people who see the contact data are Alberta Health staffers, and only if they request your info due to a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Early usage rates have been low, in addition to a strange design issue that plagued iPhone users. In the first week of the launch only 140,000 Albertan’s downloaded the app, a small fraction of the province’s population. The government hopes as many people as possible will download it, given the app will only prove effective with a larger user base.

You can find a detailed FAQ of the app on AHS’ website, and download it on your preferred device’s app store (Android and iPhone currently, sorry Linux/Windows phone users).