Colorado rolls out COVID-19 exposure notification app

Health officials say privacy is top priority
Posted at 5:09 PM, Oct 25, 2020
and last updated 2021-01-05 16:59:56-05

DENVER — State health officials hope a new cell phone app will be a valuable tool in the fight against COVID-19 by letting people know if they've been exposed to someone who recently tested positive for the virus.

Coloradans began receiving push notifications for the app on Sunday. It's called Exposure Notification, and although the app will be automatically installed on iPhones, users will still have to opt-in. Android users will have to download the app manually.

"This service allows people who might have just spent a little bit of time together, who might not even know each other to notify that individual, not directly but through their phones that they should be tested and should quarantine," said Sarah Tuneberg, who handles COVID-19 testing and containment strategy for the State of Colorado.

Tuneberg called the app a "gamechanger" and believes it can make a difference at a time when cases are on the rise.

She explained the app works using Bluetooth technology, and Tuneberg says that technology allows users to have complete anonymity. Once a user enables or downloads the app, their phone will exchange tokens with other phones in the area.

"Once you enable it on your iPhone or download the app if you have an Android the technology generates random strings of letters and numbers that we call tokens and when your phone is in proximity to another phone that is using the service, those tokens are exchanged back and forth and shared between the phones," said Tuneberg.

She said because the technology does not use GPS, there's no way of knowing where someone was exposed. If another user tests positive, they will be able to send out a notification to others who were in close proximity, and the app will tell them which day they were potentially exposed.

"The service doesn't collect any personally identifiable information, no name, no IP address. We feel people on this one, and it's really important to us that we have the privacy protection in place," said Tuneberg.

Additional information about Exposure Notifications can be found here.