Federal COVID Alert app wasn't working for some users for much of November

Share:

The developers of Canada's COVID Alert app fixed a glitch last week that left some users without exposure notifications for much of November.

An update to the app released on Nov. 23 said it would fix a "bug causing gaps in exposure checks for some users." Without the patch, some Canadians running the app would not have been notified if they came in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

It's unclear how many people missed exposure notifications due to the glitch. But it does raise the prospect that certain users weren't advised to self-isolate or seek a COVID-19 test in a timely manner, potentially delaying diagnosis.

"For two weeks, the app basically didn't work" for those users, said Urs Hengartner, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Waterloo.

He and others on social media said their devices had not performed any exposure checks from Nov. 9 to 23. The process — when a smartphone receives codes from a central server and verifies whether the user was potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19 — is supposed to take place several times a day. 

The problem appears to have first been reported by commenters in the Google Play Store as early as Nov. 12. That's 11 days before it was fixed.

"I noticed today that COVID Alert has done no exposure checks for the last two weeks," a user wrote in Apple's App Store on Nov. 20. "What good is this?"

Users are urged to check their app store (the Google Play Store for people with Android devices and Apple's App Store for those with iPhones) to ensure their app is now up to date. Users who haven't installed the latest update — version 1.1.2 — could still be missing exposure checks. 

COVID Alert is designed to take note when two users spend at least 15 minutes less than two metres apart. If a user later tests positive for COVID-19, they can use the app to anonymously notify contacts of potential exposure.