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Miami-Dade mayor says privacy won’t be compromised while using new coronavirus app

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez speaks at Sept. 16 news conference.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez speaks at Sept. 16 news conference. (WPLG)

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez held a news conference Wednesday afternoon regarding the county’s CombatCOVID MDC app and new mobile testing vans.

Gimenez said Palm Beach County is currently using the same app and officials in Broward County are considering implementing it there, as well.

“Let me stress that this app requires no personal information, no GPS or location information is tracked," Gimenez said. "The information is encrypted, so there’s absolutely no reason to fear that the government is tracking your every move. It’s really about protecting you.”

The app is offered in English, Spanish and Creole, and Gimenez said it will assist in continuing to tamp down the spread of COVID-19 in Miami-Dade County.

He said the app will alert people in the same vicinity whether they have been near someone who has self-reported that they have tested positive for the virus. The mayor said the app will not disclose the identity of that person.

“The bottom line, by using the app you will be keeping yourself and others safer while ensuring your privacy is protected,” he said.

Still, some are not too convinced about the app’s effectiveness.

“I am not sure if this was just a band-aid to help people feel comfortable,” web expert Craig Agranoff told Local 10 News reporter Christina Vazquez.

When the app appeared in the app store over the weekend, someone posted a one-star review with a complaint about “poor implementation.”

Agranoff explained that part of the issue comes in certain situations, like when someone is at a restaurant.

“You have to take out your phone, find the app, press the button, leave it open, and then you need to hope that everyone else around you has done the same type of thing, and then does the next step and self-identifies that they had COVID and alert everyone else,” he said. “If we see one or two percent of the public using this, I would be surprised. For critical mass, you would need it to be at about 60 percent for it to have any form of effectiveness.”

Agranoff said the app has to be on in the foreground of your phone to work. That means the app needs to be opened and then left open, not swiped off in the way that apps can be closed.

The phone doesn’t have to be active as long as the app is running in the foreground.

Jack Bentolila, the deputy director of Miami-Dade County’s internal services department explained the limitations the county is trying to work past:

“In order to provide our community this additional contact tracing tool, the CombatCOVID app requires a multistep acknowledgement to confirm their positive test anonymously,” he said in an email. "The notification to those that they exchanged digital keys with in the last 14 days will indicate that they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID and they are encouraged to get tested. Apple users, who download the app, are informed through the download process that when using the app they should ensure the app is launched anytime they will be in a situation where social distancing will be difficult to ensure the anonymous Bluetooth digital keys are exchanged. This is needed as Apple operating system manages the use of all apps on their devices to save battery life. This does not occur with Android devices, even without the API and unique ID, the Android operating system allows the user to manage the applications on their devices.

“Although we have imbedded this multistep verification in the application, the Apple and Google store will not approve the use of the API functions without a unique health care system unique ID code. The CombatCOVID app still provides a mechanism of anonymous contact tracing that will benefit the county. We will be working with the vendor and Palm Beach County to request that the Apple and Google stores waive the requirement for the unique ID for the CombatCOVID application.”


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