The Covid app is safer than most, says experts

The South African government has launched a new contact tracing app called Covid Alert SA.

South African citizens are suspicious of the app’s (and the government’s) intentions, but experts have said that the app in perfectly safe when it comes to privacy concerns. It asks for less information than most popular apps, such as Facebook, Uber and Gmail.

Professor Preiser, head of Medical Virology at Stellenbosch University, says “Within the limitations that these things may have, if a sufficient number of people use it, it will help.”

Emma Sadleir, founder and CEO of The Digital Law Company and a local privacy expert, says:
“The manual methods – although helpful – are quickly overwhelmed. Let’s use this amazing tech that’s available to us. There is no reason to be suspicious. Come and contact me if you find out that your information has been misused, I’ll take the hit.I really do think that people should download this Covid Alert SA app. I think it’s a good step because we all want to get back to normal life and this is a step towards that.”

How does it work?

The app will ask for a few permissions upon installation. These include Bluetooth access as well as mobile data access. It does not ask for GPS permissions, which means that it won’t collect geolocation data at all.

It uses something called low-frequency Bluetooth protocol, which means that it won’t drain your battery and works on the lower end of the Bluetooth spectrum. This Bluetooth access is used to ping nearby devices (that also have the app installed) in public places. It then collects anonymised IDs from each nearby device through Bluetooth and stores them directly on your device.

If you contract Covid-19 and you record a positive case in the app, it will only now connect via a mobile network (it has been zero-rated by networks, so you won’t pay for this data/airtime) and send all of the user IDs picked up at the store a few days earlier than they may have come into contact with a positive case.

What type of information does it collect?

  • The app does not require a user sign-up
  • There is no Google login, Apple ID, ReCaptcha or password
  • The app was built on Google and Apple’s exposure notification API, which is the same as used in the rest of the world
  • Anonymised IDs are generated when you’re in close proximity of other smartphones
  • It doesn’t collect phone numbers, ID numbers, names, addresses or even Google account information
  • Developers have had to adhere to both Google’s and Apple’s security protocols for it to be made available to the general public while using the tech firm’s technology

Citizens are encouraged to download the app and help to track the spread of Covid-19. To do so, click here.

Image credit: The South African

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