Top Ten Myths About ‘StopCOVID NI’
#1 – The police are going to use the app to hand out fines if people don’t self-isolate.
False: the app is completely confidential. We don’t know who has got notifications to self-isolate, or where they occurred. There is no possible personal information that could be shared from the app with the police. The app does not collect personal information. We had this verified by the Information Commissioner’s Office and independent academics in QUB and UU. We publish the code of the app openly on https://covid-19.hscni.net/stopcovid-ni-open-source/ along with independent endorsements from independent public interest and privacy groups.
#2 – I can work out how I got this notification in error, so I can ignore it.
False: the app uses exchange of anonymous randomly generated IDs and strength of Bluetooth signal to work out who is at risk of having been infected by COVID-19, if another app user tests positive. Unless you have had very limited contacts with other people, and know all of the people you have been in close contact with, you will not know precisely who has potentially passed the infection to you. If you have had very limited contacts, and know them all, it is likely you would find out that you are at risk of infection anyway through the manual contact tracing system. We have had people say that “I know my neighbour tested positive, so it must have come through the wall, as we haven’t been close”. The app uses a low energy ‘Bluetooth LE’ setting to minimise battery use (avoiding draining your battery), substantially reducing the possibility of transmission through a standard block / brick wall. Internal plasterboard partition walls may allow some signal transmission to people you share a house with, but as you live together, they are likely a close contact anyway (in terms of risk of infection).
#3 – The app tracks where you are, or can use QR codes to know where you have been.
False: the app does not know your location. The app uses the strength of Bluetooth signals from the phones of other users to work out risk of infection, setting that risk in the same way as the manual contact process – there is a risk of infection if you spend 15 minutes or longer, at a distance of 2m or less, from someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. We have taken a decision in NI not to use QR codes. There are manual processes for tracing contact in bars and restaurants. QR codes would just cause confusion, as not everyone would use an app to make use of them, and it would cause duplication with the manual process. QR codes are not secure, and can be used to hack your smartphone. Use of personally identified information about where you have been, captured via an app, could undermine confidence in the privacy assurances given with the ‘StopCOVID NI’ app.
#4 – The app lets the contact tracers know my number so I can call them.
False: the app never shares your phone number. The app does not capture or store phone numbers of contacts. The app is completely anonymous and does not share your details. We had this verified by the Information Commissioner’s Office and independent academics in QUB and UU. We publish the code of the app openly on https://covid-19.hscni.net/stopcovid-ni-open-source/ along with independent endorsements from independent public interest and privacy groups.
#5 – The app can be used to prank people, and should be ignored.
False: the only way you can activate the app to warn others about a positive diagnosis is if you receive a SMS text from the ‘HSCResult’ secure text account, with an authorisation code. This is a six digit alphanumeric code with over a billion combinations. You could not possibly guess the right code to be able to prank people. Once you receive the code, it can only be used once, and expires after 24 hours.
#6 – If you wear PPE or are behind a protective screen at work you can ignore exposure notifications if you get one.
False: if you are out and about, mixing with other people at all, there is a chance that you could have been exposed to someone with infection at any time in the past 14 days. If you are working with protection such as PPE or screens, you are advised to deactivate the app for as long as you are protected by these measures. You can use the pause function in the app, go via the ‘tracing active’ panel on the home screen of the app, and scroll down. You can set a reminder for when you want to switch on the app again. If you forget, you cannot assume that you are getting a false notification from the period where you forgot to deactivate the app at work. You should also avoid trying to work out the precise time you were infected, as the timing of exposure notification you receive will be determined by when the person who has tested positive receives and uploads their diagnosis to the app. The connectivity of your phone to the network / Wi-Fi, can also delay you receiving a notification, if the link is poor. Having high level battery saving measures enabled on your phone can delay processing and delivery of a notification.
#7 – I left my phone in the car / a locker / unattended last week, so if I get a notification, I can ignore it.
False: if you are out and about, mixing with other people at all, there is a chance that you could have been exposed to someone with infection at any time in the past 14 days. You cannot assume that the notification you received relates to a specific time when you left your phone unattended with the app on. If you are leaving your phone unattended, you must remember to deactivate the app using the pause button, or switch off your phone. The app will not work if your phone is switched off.
#8 – You need to use the Irish app if you are travelling there.
False: you only need use the ‘StopCOVID NI’ app travelling anywhere in Ireland. The app is linked to the app in Ireland, meaning that your app will communicate anonymously with Irish app users, and both phones can assess risk of infection, or provide notification of infection. You don’t need to download the Irish app. The same is true for the Scottish app and the app operating in Jersey. The reverse situation is also true. People from those countries can visit here using their app, and don’t need to download our app. Soon we will also be linked with the app in England and Wales. We are working to link with other countries in Europe also. It is advised that people download the app of the country they live in, because the app backend is linked in with countries’ test registries. You need this link to be able to enter a positive diagnosis, following a test for COVID-19.
#9 – If I get a text to tell me I have had a positive test, the app knows this.
False: the app does not know you have a positive test, unless you let it know by entering the authorisation code. The only way you can activate the app to warn others about a positive diagnosis is if you receive a SMS text from the ‘HSCResult’ secure text account, with an authorisation code. This is a six digit alphanumeric code with over a billion combinations. Once you receive the code, it can only be used once, and expires after 24 hours.
#10 – The app will tell me to self-isolate even if I have only walked past someone in the street who has tested positive, so how can I trust it?
False: the phone registers all contacts that you have anonymously, but in the event of one of them getting a positive diagnosis, you only get an exposure notification if a contact in the last 14 days was for longer than 15 minutes and at a distance of 2 metres or less. Clearly passing people in the street does not meet this threshold, and will not trigger an exposure notification.