Wednesday 4 August 2021

Your cell phone can now notify you if you had contact with a positive case of covid-19

Ministries of Health and Science and Technology launch notification platform developed by Apple and Google, which will be available from June 16

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QCOSTARICA – Fifteen months after the national emergency against covid-19 was declared, Costa Ricans will have a digital platform where you can be notified if you had contact with a positive case.

COVID-19 contact notification system created by Google and Apple will be enabled in Costa Rica on June 16. The app is voluntary and uses Bluetooth to make contact, but not GPS

The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science and Technology (MICITT) reported on Friday the launch of a platform developed for that purpose by Apple and Google, which will be available from June 16 for both iPhone and Android users.

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Some Android phones can already activate the function.

The purpose of the new tool is that people can know if they have been exposed to a positive case of covid-19 and can take the necessary steps to follow up.

It will be called Mascarilla Digital (Digital Mask) and, as explained, it is a voluntary service that does not store personal information about users or their location.

“Thanks to the system, if a person was two meters away from another, for a minimum of ten minutes, both phones will exchange codes, secure and anonymous, using Bluetooth technology.

“If the user obtains a positive result in the detection test for covid-19, they can notify others through the application anonymously,” reported the Ministry of Health.

This platform will work through an alliance with Telefónica de Costa Rica (Movistar).

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Interested users will receive a text message with a code so that, on a voluntary basis, they authorize Digital Mask to notify those who may have had contact with, provided that both have this function enabled.

The notification is for informational purposes only and does not generate a sanitary isolation order.

Apple users can activate the function from the Settings option, under the name Exposure Notifications.

Android users can also do it from the Settings function, select Google and Exposure notifications.

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Melissa Ramírez, Health Surveillance Officer of the Ministry of Health, confirmed that this platform is already in use in many countries.

She clarified that the app does not save personal information or location because it does not use GPS systems.

For his part, Jorge Mora Flores, spokesman for the Ministry of Science and Technology, explained that when the system is activated, it exchanges keys between nearby telephones.

Notification of a positive case, Mora said, is always voluntary. It will never be known who was covid-19 or the persons notified.

“We hope with this we can help with the emergency generated by covid-19 in the country,” said Mora.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the issue of contact tracing through mobile applications began to be discussed, although authorities expressed concerns.

A few months after the national emergency was declared due to covid-19, the manager of Technological Transformation of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE), John Molina, assured that the Expediente Digital Único en Salud (EDUS) – Unique Digital Health Record – tool developed by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS),  had the technical capacity to perform the function.

At that time, countries such as Singapore, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Colombia used cell phones to follow the tracks of the virus and stop waves of contagion and deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also considered, from the beginning, that these applications were key tools in the face of the pandemic.

Molina stated at that time that the EDUS had not been enabled due to a “legal issue”, since it involved sharing personal data (name, identification number, telephone number, gender and locations) with third parties; those third parties were the Ministry of Health and the CCSS.

A year ago, Costa Rica had 4.7 million telephone lines with mobile Internet out of a total of 8.8 million active cell lines, according to the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones (Sutel) – Superintendency of Telecommunications.

The new tool, according to Salud, does not have that legal problem.

Q&A

From the Ministry of Health website

What is Mascarilla Digital (Digital Mask)?
Using the development carried out by the companies Apple and Google; Through Mascarilla Digital (Digital Mask), the Ministry of Health can inform users, anonymously, if they have been exposed with a positive for COVID-19.

How does the current procedure improve?
The positive person for COVID-19, by notifying those who have been close to them in the last 10 days, allows them to be alerted in case of having any symptoms.

Is it voluntary?
Yes, the system is activated and deactivated voluntarily.

What do I do if I have an Apple device and I want to activate it?
You can activate it directly from your operating system, as long as it is version 12.5 onwards. People must activate the function on their devices from Settings under the name “Exposure Notifications”

What do I do if I have an Android and I want to activate it?
Users must activate the function by entering “Settings”, selecting “Google” and “Exposure Notifications”. This feature is enabled for Android 6.0 onwards.

Can I use it if I have Huawei devices?
The application can be downloaded if your device has Google Services active.

Do you use my personal information?
No, neither the Ministry of Health, nor Google, nor Apple, can access any type of personal information with the activation of this system. It does not request to activate the GPS, so it has no way of knowing your location, and it does not have any type of access to your cell phone, nor your number, nor your photos, nor messages, or any type of data.

How does it work if you don’t use my personal information?
The application uses Bluetooth by means of which it exchanges keys between devices, which change every 10 to 20 minutes, which do not contain any type of information. Subsequently, the device that activates the positive code for COVID-19, activates the keys of the last 10 days to notify that there was exposure to a contact. If the user decides to activate the code if it is positive, this code does not share the patient’s information either, and no third party has access to it.

What happens if I deactivate Bluetooth?
You can keep the application active, and deactivate the Bluetooth if you feel that it can consume your battery, however, we recommend keeping the Bluetooth activated so that the key exchanges can take place, and that in case of having contact with a person who later turns out positive by COVID-19 can be included in the exposure notifications.

Is it already used in other countries?
Yes. As of the launch date in Costa Rica, there are more than 60 countries and regions in the world with the service enabled. Costa Rica uses the most up-to-date version and is the fourth country in the world to implement it.

How much did the Digital Mask implementation cost?
Through technology developed by Google and Apple, Mascarilla Digital volunteers facilitated the implementation of this system, so it did not have any cost to the Government of Costa Rica.

Being free, will Google and Apple be monetizing my information?
No, Google and Apple do not monetize with this development.

Why does Android require me to turn on your location settings, when contact notification apps don’t use location information?
On Android 6.0 (“Marshmallow” – 2015) and higher, Bluetooth scanning requires device location settings to be “on” for applications to use the technology. This functionality was designed long before the COVID-19 pandemic and was designed to further improve and simplify location privacy. The exposure notification system does not use the location of the device and the Terms of Service prohibits applications from public health authorities from requesting access to the location of the device.

The Android platform offers granular location settings that allow users to control their device’s behavior (through device location control) and manage location data shared with individual applications. In Android 11, the exposure notification system does not require the phone’s location setting to be activated.

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"Rico" is the crazy mind behind the Q media websites, a series of online magazines where everything is Q! In these times of new normal, stay at home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

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