Montreal to study possible use of COVID-19 tracing apps, including one made locally
The developers of a contact-tracing app that was made in Quebec say it’s nearly ready for its rollout.
But the province says that while it wants to support Quebec-made products, it isn’t so sure it’s ready to introduce this kind of technology at all.
Quebec’s artificial intelligence institute, MILA, has launched a tracking app designed to protect people from COVID-19 and limit its spread.
The app, called “COVI,” will be installed on people’s phones, will ask them questions and collect information, and aims to help calculate one’s probability of catching the virus—or tell its users which spots to avoid.
The institute believes the app will allow authorities to lift social distancing measures.
“If people use it and then if people are able to follow the recommendations… it would definitely have a very concrete impact,” says MILA president Valérie Pisano.
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She says the institute has been working closely with the office of Canada’s privacy commissioner to ensure it will protect the identity of people exposed to COVID-19 and respect other privacy concerns.
Pisano also said the institute is in talks with governments at multiple levels, including the federal government, to permit the usage of the app over the next few weeks.
On Friday, Mylène Drouin, Montreal’s public health director, said her team has been preparing to study apps that can trace COVID-19. Pisano said MILA’s proposed app is one of them.
On Monday, Quebec Premier François Legault suggested he’d like the province to give preference to the MILA-developed app. The institute studies artificial intelligence, is based in Montreal and groups more than 500 researchers.
“I know there are other proposals in other provinces, but of course I would like that we use the application made here in Quebec,” said Legault.
However, some privacy experts are happy the government is taking its time.
“Are we inching towards Big Brother?” asked tech expert Marc Saltzman. “How is this data being used? Who has control over the data? Could it be hacked?”
One reason for skepticism, critics say, is that the app would be used voluntarily rather than being made mandatory, which would limit the amount of data it could collect.
However, one medical expert said it would still likely prove useful, as long as very widespread testing is also being done.
“This is not the one and only thing that is needed, but this is a very important adjunct,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Matthew Oughton. “It works very well in conjuction with testing.”
With files from The Canadian Press.
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