by Heidi L. Everett
A free phone app is the latest tool announced by the Governor’s Office to help slow the spread of COVID in Minnesota.
In the press briefing, Tarek Tomes, Minnesota’s chief information officer, shared details about the app called COVIDaware MN.
COVIDaware MN runs on smartphones and notifies people who have downloaded the app and opted into its services if they have been near someone who tests positive for COVID-19.
The app also allows users to opt into sharing if they have had a positive COVID-19 test, so other users can be notified.
Data privacy was a hallmark of this apps development.
How it works
COVIDaware MN is a free app developed by Apple and Google that uses notification technology and Bluetooth.
Once downloaded from the iPhone App Store or the Android Google Play Store, users opt-in to the notification system. The app will generate an anonymous, random key for users’ phones. To help ensure these random keys can’t be used to identify a user’s location, the keys change every 10 to 20 minutes.
A user’s phone and the phones near it work anonymously in the background, using Bluetooth technology to exchange these privacy-protected keys. For example, if a user is shopping in a store and spends several minutes near another individual who has the app working on a phone, the phones exchange the keys. This is a passive process that begins once a user chooses to opt-in. It functions without the app open, and it won’t drain a phone battery.
The app then checks for positive COVID-19 cases every day. Again, these anonymous positive cases are only shared if a user of the app opts-in to allow that information to be shared. On a daily basis, a user’s phone downloads a list of all the anonymous keys associated with positive COVID-19 cases and checks them against the list of random keys a phone has encountered in the previous 14 days.
If there’s a match, the app will notify users if they may have been exposed to the coronavirus. In addition, the app will provide further instructions from the Minnesota Department of Health about what is needed to be done to keep people around users safe.
How would the app know of a positive COVID test result?
If a user tests positive for COVID-19, they may choose to notify other COVIDaware MN app users.
To trigger such notifications, a user must enter a test verification code generated by public health services and only used to enter a positive diagnosis in the COVIDaware MN app, if the user chooses to do so.
Once a test verification code is entered into the COVIDaware MN app, a risk calculation is made using the time, duration and Bluetooth proximity indicator collected by the COVIDaware MN app for each contact event between COVIDaware MN app users. COVIDaware MN app users who are calculated to have been in close contact with the user who tested positive will receive an exposure notification.
Personal information is never collected, stored or shared with the State of Minnesota, Apple or Google.
What the app doesn’t do
Installing and using COVIDaware MN is voluntary and anonymous. The State of Minnesota never collects any personally identifiable information from the app nor is personal information shared with others.
As noted on the app website, COVIDaware MN:
• Never tracks locations.
Never sends information to the Minnesota Department of Health without direct permission.
Never requires personal information such as a name or address.
Never sends information to Apple or Google.
Never accesses other information on a phone.
To learn more about the app, visit covidawaremn.com.