When Trust is Lost – The COVID Alert App

January 2021

When a condo board loses the trust of residents, they become superfluous.  Residents ignore communications, messages and directives coming from management.  When something important comes up nobody cares or reacts.

Ontario’s failure in getting people to adopt the COVID Alert app offers a tangible example of what happens when trust has been lost.

Indications are that the COVID Alert app is a good and useful technology made available by the federal government.  Its drawback may be that it only works if individuals exposed to COVID know this has occurred and choose to provide this information to the app.  Neither assumption may be reliable.

The app has not been downloaded and used by enough people for it to aid in reducing infection.  There have been only 2.2 million downloads by Ontario’s 15 million residents.  Most have chosen not to use this tool to help fight COVID.

There is a reasonable and widespread mistrust of technology and government.  Many are suspicious of how technology tracks us and how easily it can be hijacked.  We don’t appreciate the level of surveillance and lack of privacy users are forced to endure.  Ring cameras can track what happens near our front door and possibly to the street.  Drones fly around our home and can record our movements. On our electronic devices speakers, microphone or camera can be turned on by an external source without our knowledge.  Our personal technologies track our behaviour while watching us with much of the gathered information used to sell us products and services.

We are told the COVID Alert app doesn’t share identifying information while informing when we are near someone who has been exposed.  It is hard to trust this when so many other intrusions have been allowed.  Then there is the problem of false readings.  With the COVID Alert app potential exposure is determined by distance.  In a high-rise community people live in close proximity which may result in false readings.  The app may register exposure to someone in a neighbouring unit next door, above or below unnecessarily instilling fear.  The same false reading may occur when walking on the street or in buildings.

In essence, we don’t trust the technology we embrace for good reason.  Should anyone be surprised that most are hesitant to download the COVID Alert app and unprepared to enter their personal health status?