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New virus tracking app launched: explained

A brand new COVID-19 contact-tracing app has officially been launched today. The scope of the application is to alert users if they have been in close contact with anyone who tests positive with the virus at a later stage.

The app, COVID Alert Malta, was developed by the Malta International Technology Agency and the Malta Digital Innovation Authority, along with local health authorities.

What’s more, the app is available in English and Maltese and can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

What are the benefits of the app?

In essence, the app allows for more efficient tracking of COVID-19 and is an additional tool for health authorities. The aim is to minimise contact-tracing delays and aid healthcare professionals deal with rising numbers of cases in an orderly, more efficient manner.

so, how does it work exactly?

When two phones have the app downloaded and are close to each other for more than a couple of minutes, they exchange completely anonymous codes.

When a person tests positive for COVID-19, they will be given what is referred to as a ‘COVID code’. The user can voluntarily enter said code into their smartphone. This will then upload the anonymous information and thus, unlock a function that shares the positive result to a database. When this is done, the app derives the COVID-19 positive patient’s random codes, which were broadcast during the time he was potentially infectious.

In this way, the database will be able to reveal users who met or spent time with the COVID-19 positive patient. The app does this by using the anonymous codes to check if any correspond to those stored in the device memory of the last two weeks.

They will be alerted and notified about what steps to take next, including either quarantine or the need to get tested.

is my data being protected?

Absolutely. COVID Alert Malta uses a Bluetooth contact tracing system but don’t you worry, it does not collect personal data and is fully GDPR-compliant.

The system doesn’t use any type of geolocalisation whatsoever, including GPS data. The app does not and cannot collect any data that would identify users, including name, date of birth, telephone number or the like.

In a nutshell, the app is able to determine that contact has taken place between two separate users without actually knowing who the users are and where the contact occurred.

how can i use the app properly?

Simples. Download the app, open it and ensure that ‘Tracing active’ is seen on the Home section. Whilst you’re at it, make sure that you don’t leave the house without your smartphone, do not disable Bluetooth at any time and don’t uninstall the app.

Also, it goes without saying, but if the app sends you a notification, it’s crucial that you open the app and follow the instructions provided.