Canada’s COVID Alert smartphone app, developed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to warn people when they’ve been in close contact with a person infected with the virus, has officially retired.
“COVID Alert is now retired. You can delete the app. Thank you for doing your part to help limit the spread of COVID-19,” the app’s information page says today.
The mobile app was created to anonymously alert people when they’ve been in contact with someone carrying the virus for longer than 15 minutes. It used GPS location data and Bluetooth to communicate with other devices.
In the early days of the pandemic, users who tested positive for the virus using a PCR test were issued a numerical key to be entered into the app. But as rapid testing became more common, health officials stopped issuing the keys.
According to the Canadian Press, COVID Alert took C$20 million to develop, but only C$3.5 million went into the app itself. Of the rest, C$15.9 million went to promoting and advertising to raise awareness.
Despite the government and health officials, COVID Alert never gained the traction its creators had envisioned. Mismanagement between public entities, privacy concerns from the users, and questions of its efficacy all stifled its adoption.
In the end, only 6.89 million people downloaded the app, representing just around 18 per cent of Canada’s total population. Since its launch, the app had only recorded 63,117 user keys. By the end of 2020 alone, there were already 572,982 confirmed cases in Canada. There are now 3.9 million recorded COVID-19 cases.
Still, the Canadian government says that the app had sent out 456,349 notifications and helped to confirm at least 2,446 cases.
Rumours that the app would be discontinued first appeared earlier this week after a government source informed the Canadian Press.
Correction June 22: The original article stated that the app used GPS in conjunction with Bluetooth connection to determine the users’ proximity when the app only used Bluetooth. The article’s original headline “Canada’s COVID Alert app ends in failure” contained the author’s opinion and was inappropriate for a news piece. The article has been updated to reflect these changes. The author regrets these errors.