Fredrik Finney-Jordet/The Broadside
Oregon State University is working with the Oregon Health Authority to develop an app to notify users if they are exposed to COVID-19, according to their website. The app, called “Oregon Exposure Notifications,” is currently in a pilot program to be tested by students and OSU staff.
This announcement comes as the Oregon Health Authority is regularly reporting over 1,000 daily cases of COVID-19 in Oregon and as cases spike around the country.
“Oregon Exposure Notifications can help slow the spread of coronavirus,” according to their webpage for the new system. “It gives you an easy, automated way to find out if you might have been close to another person who tested positive for COVID-19…and connects you with the resources you need if you are exposed.”
The app works with the Exposure Notifications System, a digital contact tracing system jointly created by Apple and Google earlier this year.
There are privacy concerns with this system. “[We] need to weigh the potential benefits against the very real risks to privacy and security,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that advocates for digital privacy, wrote in an article back in April.
According EFF’s article, bad actors could hypothetically collect data to piece together users’ locations or infected status. Police may also seek the locally stored data created by the proximity apps.
The system’s creators maintain that the app is safe and private. “The Exposure Notifications System was built with your privacy and security central to the design,” according to Google on their Exposure Notifications webpage, “[your] identity is not shared with other users, Google, or Apple.”
The “Oregon Exposure Notifications” app, and others from states around the country, execute the Apple and Google’s system. The app works by using your phone’s Bluetooth functionality to broadcast strings of characters—keys—to other devices within range. If two devices are within range long enough to share a few of those keys back and forth, that’s an interaction. Then, if someone tests positive for COVID-19, they can authorize the sharing of their access to indicate to everyone they interacted with that they may have been exposed, all through the app.
For now, Oregon Exposure Notifications is still in development, but according to OSU’s webpage, the app is expected to be available state-wide in January.