New York Launches COVID Alert NY Exposure App
New York State last week launched its COVID Alert NY mobile app to provide users with an anonymous notification whenever they have been in close, extended contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The app is programmed to collect information on exposures to COVID-19-positive individuals within six feet for longer than 10 minutes. With the knowledge of potential exposures, users can promptly get tested, obtain early treatment if necessary, self-quarantine, and reduce the potential exposure risk to others. The effectiveness of the app depends on the number of people who use it.
The State is stressing the privacy protections built into the app. The operating systems of users' phones collect secure random codes that are exchanged when users are within six feet of each other for longer than 10 minutes. It does not use location tracking and cannot identify where a user may have been exposed to COVID-19. When an individual with the app tests positive, an investigator from the county health department will ask the individual for permission to share the user's list of “close contact” codes in the app. Each day, the list of codes for confirmed cases with consent is sent to every phone that has the app. The app then compares the recipient's own list of close contact codes to the list of confirmed case codes. If there is a match, the app displays a COVID alert. The app never reveals the identity of the individuals who generated the codes and triggered the alerts or the recipients of the alerts.
The app was developed by the New York State Department of Health (DOH) in collaboration with researchers at the State University of New York (SUNY), Columbia, Cornell, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Private Automated Contact Tracing (PACT), along with Apple, Google, Amazon Web Services, and NearForm Inc.
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