Ontario to invest in wearable contact-tracing technology to protect workers from COVID-19

The project is supposed to help more jobs in Ontario
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On Feb. 18, Premier Doug Ford said the province will invest $2.5 million into creating wearable contact-tracing technology, TraceSCAN, to protect workers against COVID-19 by alerting users if they have been in close contact with an individual, who tested positive.

The money will be provided to Facedrive Inc. through the Ontario Together Fund. According to the official Facedrive website, TraceSCAN employs “wearable Bluetooth devices with Al technology that can quickly and accurately lead to the identification, isolation and testing of new cases when time is of the essence”. 

The company hopes to manufacture approximately 150,000 devices for this project, creating 68 jobs along the way, “including jobs in software, firmware and hard engineers and machine learning specialists,” according to the government.

“In our fight against COVID-19, Ontario is continuing to support companies like Facedrive that are developing the innovative technology that adds new layers of defence against this global pandemic,” said Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.

“Through the Ontario Together Fund, we will continue to make sure that companies like Facedrive have the resources they need to supply emergency products and innovative solutions during these challenging times, while creating skilled jobs for our province,” he added.

The TraceSCAN product will track staff exposure to the virus without GPS information. All that is required is that a worker wears the device and the technology will communicate with other devices in the workplace.

The device will also beep when users are less than six feet apart to remind them to respect COVID-19 guidelines.

When someone tests positive for the virus, health and safety officials and HR will be able to log in to the online reporting dashboard and access information into who has been in contact with the individual and what their risk level is. It will then send a notification to the users involved.

Potential problems with the technology

According to an interview released by Yahoo News, Sumit Bhatia, Director of Communications and knowledge mobilization with Ryerson University’s Cubersecure Catalyst, said that pushing for the use of this device may pose privacy concerns.

“The contact tracing app is a function of the government taking steps to ensure people feel comfortable, and in that process, they’re trying to be as transparent as possible. And so there is generally a higher level of engagement and concern around privacy,” Bhatia said.

According to a report from the Cybersecure Catalyst, about 62% of Canadians trust the government in protecting their private information.

Bhatia added that he is concerned about the potential for discrimination with the technology rollout.

“That bias could be in the form of you participating or not,” Bhatia said. He added that he is worried the new technology will create a “hostile environment” in which it may provoke a sentiment similar to the anti-masking movement.

Contact-tracing app

A contact-tracing app that was developed in the UK is said to have prevented around 600,000 cases of the virus. 

It was reported that over 1.7 million users across England and Wales were asked to self-isolate by the NHS COVID-19 app due to close contact with a positive case.

The app, which was launched in September 2020, is said to have benefited the UK in fighting the virus.

Canada also has a COVID-19 Alert app, which uses Bluetooth technology to alert users if they were in close contact with a positive case. And the app allows users to contact a public health unit to inquire about the virus.

Unlike the wearable technology, the app requires people with positive cases to input a code into the app provided by public health officials. The code is then used to conduct contact-tracing.

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