Your phone can send you an alert if you were near someone who has coronavirus - East Idaho News
Nov 30, 2020 1 min, 25 secs
The alerts come via state health department apps that use Bluetooth technology to detect when you (or more precisely, your phone) has been in close contact with an infected person’s phone.

iPhones and Android devices contain constantly changing anonymous codes that ping nearby phones via Bluetooth — a process that starts once the user opts to get the notifications.

For the exposure notifications to be effective, Android users must turn on Bluetooth and download their state’s Covid-19 notification app.

The apps assess your risk on the strength of the Bluetooth signal (how close you were to the other person) and the duration of your contact with them.

Maryland launched its notification system on November 10 and more than 1 million people have already signed up, said Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the state health department.

The state is one of several conducting massive campaigns to educate residents about their exposure notification service.

The apps don’t collect data on users or their locations, and there is no way to link Covid diagnoses and alerts to names and identities on phones, Gischlar said.

“The fact that they use Bluetooth to bounce signals off other phones close to you, as opposed to tracking your location, does make them less invasive, and people shouldn’t worry their location is being tracked — it isn’t,” said Steve Waters, founder of Contrace Public Health Corps, which provides guidance on Covid-19 contact tracing.

The alert system is designed to complement traditional contact tracing, not work alone.

The earlier, GPS-based notification system caused an outcry among privacy advocates and has created skepticism about contact tracing in general, Waters said.

For that reason, Waters said, some are also reluctant to use Covid exposure apps.

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