Thursday, September 23, 2021

Ontario shouldn’t re-invent the wheel with COVID vaccine verification app, says developer

The Canadian developer of a free platform used by businesses for COVID-19 contact tracing and customer symptom data says Ontario should use its solution for verifying residents’ COVID vaccination status instead of developing its own app.

“We are already a trusted brand in Ontario and across the country,” said Asif Khan, CEO of Ground Level Insights, which released the CanaTrace contact tracing application for businesses last November. He’s also CTO of Vector Health Labs, which is close to buying the application.

“Eight thousand-plus businesses are already using CanaTrace today. It’s a huge brand, like Starbucks. Every OnRoute highway restaurant in the province, OLG (Ontario Lottery and Gaming) Casinos, provincial parks, federal buildings like the National Gallery in Ottawa… already use CanaTrace.”

“Why go and try and do something where you have to re-create the wheel versus leveraging a brand and a trust that’s already been built with consumers?” he asked.

“We applaud the fact that Ontario recognizes the need for having some digital way for people to present their digital vaccine certificate. We think they need to be looking at a wider view of what businesses actually require, which is inclusive of contact tracing, symptom screening, negative test results and vaccine certificates.”

“We think consumers have a right to manage their own COVID-19 and other health credentials and do so at no cost to them or to businesses that require it to keep their workplaces safe.”

CanaTrace is free, Khan said, and his company gets no revenue from its use.

Khan’s comments today came after Ontario announced Wednesday that it is developing a QR-based digital proof of vaccination certificate to be presented for entry to certain indoor businesses and venues. The app will be available on Oct. 22nd. In the meantime, starting Sept. 22 residents can present a paper copy of their COVID-19 vaccination history.

The provincial app requires connecting to the government’s COVID-19 vaccination database. That’s access which CanaTrace doesn’t currently have. CanaTrace lets organizations digitally collect patron and employee COVID-19 contact tracing data such as name, email, phone number, as well as have them answer screening questions. Users scan a QR code customized for each business, which downloads a questionnaire to be filled out.

In response Khan noted that Vector Health Labs, which is about to acquire CanaTrace, has a partnership with a Canadian mobile identity and access management company called Identos. Identos’ solution is used by several hospitals in health-related mobile applications.

The CanaTrace platform includes a digital wallet to hold data on users smartphones. Ontario has been vague about how its vaccine verification app will work.

In a background document the province said the vaccination status information “could be stored on a mobile device, such as Apple Wallet.

An Ontario government spokesperson was asked to respond to Khan’s comments this morning shortly after his interview.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance was asked Wednesday if the province is developing its app alone or with third parties. We had no response by press time.

UPDATE: In a statement to IT World Canada on Thursday afternoon a ministry spokesperson said Ontario will develop the vaccine certification app “in consultation with the private sector.” 

It isn’t clear why it’s taking two months to develop the Ontario app, which it calls a vaccine certificate and not a passport.

According to The Globe and Mail, the province had plans for a digital verification app using QR codes as far back as December. At a Wednesday press conference Premier Doug Ford was asked why the government didn’t go forward. “We wanted to simplify it,” he replied, before referring the question to Kaleed Rasheed, Ontario’s associate minister of digital government.

Rasheed said “this program we are launching, especially the QR code and the provincially-designed app, is going to be a very secure and a very privacy-protected app. This will allow businesses to use this app to look at the QR codes and scan individuals to gain them access to their businesses. The team at Ontario Digital Services have been working around the clock to make sure we have a solid product by Oct. 22nd.”

British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec also have verification apps. Quebec officially launched its QR-based VaxiCode Verif app this week, but it was not without teething problems. A Montreal newspaper said a group of hackers last week claimed they were able to obtain the QR codes of Premier François Legault and other politicians using an early version of the app. Separately, a computer programmer was able to show Radio-Canada that it was easy to fool the app into giving proof of vaccination to a fake person.

This week a researcher at security vendor ESET said he discovered a flaw in the implementation of Verif’s method of encryption verification. That has been eliminated in the latest version of the app.

 

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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