How ABTraceTogether works
What is ABTraceTogether?
ABTraceTogether is a mobile app that enables community-driven contact tracing to support existing efforts to fight COVID-19. ABTraceTogether will be a tool to complement traditional manual contact tracing completed by public health officials.
How does the ABTraceTogether app work?
The ABTraceTogether app uses a secure, community-driven approach where mobile devices exchange Bluetooth-enabled secure encrypted tokens when another device with the app installed is detected nearby. No other information is shared.
If an Albertan tests positive for COVID-19, a Contact Tracer from Alberta Health Services (AHS) will get in touch with the infected person using contact information provided at the testing center. This process does not change from existing AHS leading practices.
Contact Tracers are individuals who work for AHS. They will contact an infected person to determine others who may have been exposed to the infected person over the previous 21 days.
When an infected person is contacted by a Contact Tracer, the infected person will be asked if they use the ABTraceTogether app. If the infected person has the app, they will be asked to voluntarily upload the encrypted data from the app to Alberta Health Services. This information will be critical to help increase the speed and effectiveness of Alberta’s COVID-19 response.
Once AHS receives the encrypted data, AHS Contact Tracers will be able to use that information to reach the other app users who have had close contact with the infected person.
Quickly identifying the people that have been in close contact with the infected person will enable AHS to get them the guidance and care they need and to get them to self-isolate, reducing the spread of COVID-19 and helping them protect their family, friends and community.
Why is Alberta Health Services using the ABTraceTogether app?
The Government of Alberta is using this technology to protect Albertans. This app helps government support AHS to complement current contact tracing approaches to increase the speed, accuracy and effectiveness of contact tracing procedures.
Contacting people that may have been infected faster enables AHS Contact Tracers to:
- provide them the guidance and care they need
- protect their family, friends and community by self-isolating
- reduce the spread of COVID-19
How does the ABTraceTogether app measure distance and duration of contact?
The app applies the definition of close contact used by Alberta Health Services (approximately 2 meters) for contact tracers to determine whether a user has had probable exposure to COVID-19.
What thresholds constitute close contact?
The app uses Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) readings to determine if app users have been within approximately 2 meters of each other. The app uses successive communications to estimate the duration of an encounter.
The app will complement contact tracing and is not a substitute for professional judgment and human involvement in contact tracing.
Using the ABTraceTogether app
Can I use other apps?
If you’re an Android user
The ABTraceTogether app works in both the foreground and background. Once you open the app, you can freely use other apps or lock your smartphone.
If you’re an iOS user
Having the app in the foreground means that the app is visibly open on your screen.
Having the app in the background means that you have opened the app, but are using other apps or your screen is locked.
ABTraceTogether works best in the foreground, therefore it is recommend that you take the following actions:
- Keep the app on – i.e., don't close the app. If you close it, please make sure you open the app before you go out.
- Before you go out, bring the app to the front (i.e., so you are looking at it).
The app has been developed to disable the automatic screen lock timer. This means your phone will not automatically lock while the app is open. If you need to use other apps, just remember to switch back to the ABTraceTogether app once you’re done.
If the app has to be in the foreground on iOS, how can I conserve battery?
On iOS, power save mode was created to help conserve battery power while still enabling full app functionality.
You can activate "Power Saver mode” in the app (see images below) to keep the app in the foreground with a dimmed screen while it’s open. Please note that the power save mode is accessible from in the app, and is different from the “Low Power Mode” setting on your iPhone.
Using the “Low Power Mode” iPhone setting may limit the app’s functionality. If your phone is unlocked, please keep your phone securely in your pocket.
How do I use the ABTraceTogether app?
You can use the ABTraceTogether app by downloading it from your app store on every mobile device you regularly use.
After set up is complete: Keep Bluetooth turned on and the app open in the background until the end of the outbreak.
The ABTraceTogether app runs in the background to keep you and those around you safe.
Please refer to the “Why does ABTraceTogether app need Location Permission for Android?” section of the FAQs for more information on location permissions.
iOS devices / iPhones
After set up is complete: Keep Bluetooth turned on and the app in the foreground in Power Saver mode when you're out of your home or in public places.
How do I know that my app is working?
If you’re an Android user
You’ll see a sticky notification under your phone's Notifications panel that lets you know the app is up and running.
If you’re an iOS user
If the system detects that your app hasn't been working for a period of time, you will be sent a notification with instructions on how to troubleshoot.
How long should I keep the app running?
Please keep the app running with Bluetooth enabled at all times. It is recommended to use the app for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak.
You can also disable the app’s functionality any time by turning off Bluetooth permissions or deleting it. Deleting the app will remove all stored data on your phone.
I receive an error message stating I've entered an invalid pin when I enter my phone number. How do I fix this?
Your WiFi network may have a security system that is blocking the app from sending you a PIN, resulting in the error message.
To fix this, take your phone off of WiFi and complete the registration process using data.
How much mobile and WiFi data does the ABTraceTogether app consume?
The app should require a minimal amount of data per day.
The ABTraceTogether app does not need continuous Internet connectivity to function. However, it does need occasional Internet connectivity to retrieve a new unique ID from the server, which helps to protect your privacy.
Will the ABTraceTogether app affect, or be affected, if I use other Bluetooth devices with my phone?
Your Bluetooth-enabled phone can connect to multiple Bluetooth devices at the same time, (e.g., your smart watch and wireless headphones). These connections are separate and shouldn’t be affected by or affect the ABTraceTogether app.
What happens if I was in close contact with another app user who tests positive for COVID-19?
Alberta Health Services Contact Tracers will call you using the mobile number you registered on the app. They’ll provide you the guidance and information you need to minimize further transmission.
If you test positive for COVID-19, Alberta Health Services will ask for you to upload your encounter log from the AB TraceTogether app from the last 21 days. This information will only be accessed by Alberta Health Services. This helps contact tracers to quickly reach out to people you may have had close contact with.
I suspect that I might have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19. Can I offer to upload my data to check?
The ABTraceTogether app allows for data upload only when you’ve been asked for it by contact tracers. If you test positive for COVID-19, Alberta Health Services contact tracers will ask for you to upload your encounter log from the ABTraceTogether app. This information will only be accessed by Alberta Health Services..
Will the ABTraceTogether app work outside of Alberta or connect to other Canadian tracing apps?
The app is intended and designed for use by Alberta residents within Alberta. It does not connect to or share data with any other similar applications.
Why does it say that my Bluetooth is connected to “iPhone”?
When you come into contact with another ABTraceTogether app iPhone user, your Bluetooth may establish a new connection and show up as an anonymous “iPhone” in your settings. This connection does not compromise your privacy in any way.
What happens if I have two smartphones that I regularly use?
To be effective, it is recommended that you download the ABTraceTogether app to one smartphone that you carry with you at all times. If you rotate between smartphones, it is recommended that you download the app to both.
What data is collected? Are you able to see my personal data?
During the app set up, the only personal data we collect is your mobile number, so Alberta Health Services can contact you quickly if you were in close proximity to a COVID-19 case.
With your consent, the ABTraceTogether app exchanges Bluetooth proximity data with nearby phones running the same app. This data is anonymized and encrypted, and does not reveal your identity or the other person's identity. In order to measure distance, information about your phone model and the signal strength recorded is also shared, since different phone models transmit at a different power.
This data is stored only on your phone, and is not shared with Alberta Health Services. Should Alberta Health Services need the data for contact tracing, they will ask you directly to share it with them and enable an upload of your contact tracing logs.
The ABTraceTogether app also collects anonymized app utilization data to improve the app across different phone models, and to provide a better experience to our users.
How is my privacy protected?
Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services are committed to protecting your privacy, and chose a contact tracing solution that was designed with privacy in mind, including the following key features:
- Geolocation data is not collected by the app (i.e., the information retrieved will not be able to identify where you have been, such as your city or address).
- The Bluetooth exchange ID log data collected is stored locally in your phone in an encrypted form. This data will not be accessed by Alberta Health Services unless and until you choose to upload it as a result of being diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Mobile numbers or any other personal information are not revealed to other app. Only temporary IDs are exchanged between phones, and these IDs change regularly.
Once contact tracing for COVID-19 ceases, we will disable Alberta Contact Tracing’s functionality. Please see the privacy notice for more information.
Why does the ABTraceTogether app need Location Permission on Android?
The app will only ask for location permission on Android devices, not on iOS devices. This is because Android/Google requires apps requesting access to Bluetooth also obtain location permission.
The ABTraceTogether app does not capture or use information about your location. In addition, location data is not collected by Alberta Health or Alberta Health Services and is never sent from your phone to another organization for any purpose.
Can the ABTraceTogether app track the location of all phones installed with AB TraceTogether?
The ABTraceTogether app does not collect or use physical location data (e.g., GPS, WiFi fingerprinting, or mobile device ID). The app instead relies on proximity data via Bluetooth and temporary IDs that change over time.
The app doesn't identify where COVID-19 exposure may have occurred. It only seeks to establish who else might have been exposed to the virus.
Contact tracers may directly ask you questions about your physical location (e.g., which stores or workplaces you visited) for activity mapping through verbal interviews, but this will never be captured within the ABTraceTogether app or provided to other app users with your personal information.
Can I say no to uploading my ABTraceTogether data when contacted by Alberta Health Services?
ABTraceTogether is based on voluntary, community-driven contact tracing. Users of the ABTraceTogether app who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are contacted by Alberta Health Services, can choose to submit their app data to more quickly help others in the community.
What kind of application analytics data does the ABTraceTogether app collect?
The Government of Alberta, through Alberta Health, may use anonymized data collected through the use of the AB TraceTogether app to make sure it is functioning for users who have downloaded it, understand app adoption, support the consistent and effective use of the app, and to better inform contact tracers on thresholds and effective public health outreach activities.
Information provided may be used for health system management and planning, policy development and analysis of the public health emergency. Contact information will not be used for this purpose, only your random anonymized User ID and other de-identified data.
None of this data is identifiable to a specific person or location, and is always stored separately from any personal information used for contact tracing, such as your phone number. Analytics information used to inform Alberta Health on app effectiveness may include, for example: Total Number of Users, Distribution of User registrations over time, Total Number of Contacts by User, Average Contacts per User, Distribution of Contacts across Users, Total Unique Contacts, Total number of contacts that have been contacted by a health care worker, average duration of exposure with contacts, etc.
Analytics information collected to provide a better experience to app users may include: Device information (brand, category, model, OS version), and app information (app store, app version, country, language, time since installation).
How can I stop sharing my data?
You can stop sharing your data by taking two steps:
1) Delete the app to stop tracing functionality
Deleting the app will result in logs no longer being collected by your device and all data associated with or generated by contact with your app will automatically be deleted from all mobile devices after 21 days.
2) Email email@example.com to remove your phone number
You can have your phone number removed from the registration system by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the mobile number you registered in the app. We will then delete your mobile number from our server. This renders meaningless all data that your phone has exchanged with other phones, because that data will no longer be associated with you. Please refer to the privacy notice for more details.
Who do I contact if I have a question about how my data is being handled?
If you have any questions about how your personal information is being used then please contact email@example.com
If you need help setting up, please email ABTraceTogether app support.