What is COVID Alert Malta?
COVID Alert Malta is an app that helps us fight the COVID-19 epidemic
- The app aims to notify users at risk of having been exposed to the virus as early as possible – even when they are asymptomatic
- These users can then get tested. This minimises the spread of the virus, whilst speeding up a return to normal life in Malta
- By being alerted early, if these users test positive they can also receive any necessary treatment promptly and lower the risk of serious consequences
Is it really necessary that everybody uses the app? What happens if not enough people do so?
COVID Alert Malta gets increasingly effective as more people use the app. The greater the uptake of COVID Alert Malta, the higher the number of potentially infected users the app can notify. These users can then get tested, helping to contain the epidemic and speeding up the return to a normal life.
However, even if the uptake of COVID Alert Malta ends up being limited, the app will still contribute to slowing down the epidemic, especially in combination with the other measures implemented by the government. Any slowdown would relieve pressure on the Government health services and help a higher proportion of patients receive proper care, potentially saving many lives. A slowdown would also buy time until we achieve herd immunity.
Why is COVID Alert Malta important?
Everybody wants to reduce the spread of the epidemic, minimise the risk to our loved ones, and return to a normal life.
COVID Alert Malta plays an important role in achieving these goals. Thanks to its exposure notification system, the app makes it possible to quickly alert those who may have been exposed to a potentially infectious user, suggesting actions like taking a swab test. Such measures are critical in minimising the number of infections and ensuring that those affected can receive prompt, suitable medical attention, which in turn reduces the risk of complications.
How does COVIDAlert’s exposure notification system work
COVID Alert Malta’s exposure notification system aims to alert users when they have been exposed to a potentially infectious user.
The system is based on Bluetooth Low Energy technology and doesn’t use any kind of geolocalisation whatsoever, including GPS data. The app doesn’t (and can’t) collect any data that would identify the user, such as their name, date of birth, address, telephone number, or email address. Therefore, COVID Alert Malta is able to determine that contact has taken place between two users without knowing who those users are or where the contact occurred.
Here is a simplified explanation of how the system works. Let’s consider the example of two hypothetical users, Mario and Roberta:
Roberta installs the COVID Alert Malta app. Her smartphone starts sending a Bluetooth Low Energy signal that contains a random code. It does this on a continuous basis. The same goes for Mario. When Roberta and Mario are in close proximity, their smartphones mutually store each other’s random code, taking note of that event. Their phones also note how long the event lasted and the approximate distance between the two devices.
The codes are generated randomly, and they don’t contain any information about the user or their device. They also change several times each hour, protecting user privacy even more.
Let’s suppose that Mario later tests positive for SARS-CoV-2. Mario will be provided with a code by Public Health that he can voluntarily enter in his smartphone. When Mario does this, the app will transfer some cryptographic keys (secret codes) to a server. From these keys, it is possible to derive Mario’s random codes that were brodcast during the time he was potentially infectious.
For each user who has the COVID Alert Malta app installed, the app regularly downloads all the new cryptographic keys sent to the server by those users who tested positive for the virus and entered their code in the app. The app uses these keys to derive their random codes and checks if any correspond to those stored in the device memory in the previous 14 days. As such, Roberta’s app will find Mario’s random code (without knowing that it is Mario’s) and will notify Roberta that she was potentially exposed to the virus.
Does the app track my location?
No. COVID Alert Malta’s exposure notification system is based on Bluetooth Low Energy and doesn’t collect any geolocation data, including GPS data. COVID Alert Malta doesn’t (and can’t) know where you go.
How’s my privacy protected?
Throughout the entirety of COVID Alert Malta’s design and development, we have placed enormous focus on privacy protection.
Here’s a list of some of the measures COVID Alert Malta uses to protect your data:
• The app doesn’t collect any data that could lead to it knowing your identity. For example, it doesn’t ask for (and can’t obtain) your name, date of birth, address, telephone number, or email address.
• The app doesn’t collect any geolocation data, including GPS data. Your movements aren’t tracked in any shape or form.
• The Bluetooth Low Energy code broadcast by the app is generated completely randomly and doesn’t contain any information about you or your device. This code changes several times each hour, protecting your privacy even more.
• All COVID Alert Malta data stored on your smartphone is encrypted.
• All connections between the app and the server are encrypted.
• All data, whether stored on your device or on the server, is deleted when no longer relevant, and certainly no later than 21 days after transfer between app and server.
• The Ministry for Health is the body that receives your data when you voluntarily enter a code in the app if you are found to be positive . The data is used solely with the aim of containing the COVID-19 epidemic.
• The data is stored on GDPR-compliant secure servers located in the European Union and managed by national authorities.
Is the code open source?
What should I do to make sure I’m using the app correctly?
Failing to use the app correctly makes COVID Alert Malta much less effective and increases the risk to you, your loved ones, and the community.
To make sure you are using the app as intended, simply open it and check that ‘Tracing active’ is written in the Home section. If it’s not, tap on the ‘Tracing’ section and tap on the toggle to reactivate tracing.
Some other important suggestions to ensure that COVID Alert Malta is effective:
• When you leave your house, always carry your smartphone with you, with COVID Alert Malta installed.
• Don’t disable Bluetooth.
• Don’t uninstall the app.
• When the app sends you a notification, it’s vital that you read it, open the app, and follow all the instructions provided. For example, if the app asks you to upgrade it, please do so. If the app recommends that you call Helpline 111 and request a test, it’s important that you do so right away.
Where can I download COVID Alert Malta? What devices and operating systems are supported?
It depends on the type of smartphone you use. Not all devices are supported. Choose the version compatible with your smartphone.
You can download COVID Alert Malta from the App Store and use it correctly if your iPhone supports running iOS version 13.5 or above.
The following iPhone models support iOS 13.5: 11, 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max, Xr, Xs, Xs Max, X, SE (2nd generation), 8, 8 Plus, 7, 7 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, SE (1st generation). Unfortunately, you won’t be able to use COVID Alert Malta if your iPhone model doesn’t support running iOS version 13.5 or above.
You can download COVID Alert Malta from Google Play Store and use it correctly if your Android smartphone fulfils all three of the following requirements:
• Bluetooth Low Energy
• Android version 6 (Marshmallow, API 23) or above
• Google Play Services version 20.18.13 or above
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to use COVID Alert Malta if your model of Android smartphone doesn’t feature Bluetooth Low Energy or doesn’t support the minimum Android and Google Play Services versions indicated above.
Are the instructions that the app provides reliable?
The app’s recommendations depend on the duration of your exposure to potentially contagious users and on the distance between your smartphones during such exposure.
This information is limited and can never be perfect, as Bluetooth Low Energy signals are impacted by various disruptive factors. As such, the app’s assessments won’t always be flawless. If the app recommends that you request a test, it doesn’t mean you definitely have SARS-CoV-2. It just means that, based on the information the app has available, taking a test is the safest thing to do for yourself and those around you.
Therefore, it’s crucial that you follow all the instructions provided by the app—for your own good, as well as that of your loved ones and the general public everyone else. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Helpline 111 if the app notifies you of a possible infection.
Why isn’t my smartphone compatible with COVID Alert Malta? What can I do about it?
A heartfelt ‘thank you’ for wanting to use COVID Alert Malta. However, without a compatible smartphone, unfortunately, it’s not possible to download and use the app.
COVID Alert Malta uses the exposure notification technology made available by Apple and Google. This technology determines the system requirements for downloading and using COVID Alert Malta, and it is not compatible with earlier versions of iOS and Android.
We’ve chosen to develop a system that works effectively on the majority of smartphones, rather than one that works on even more smartphones, but that is much less reliable.
We know that there are people who are eager to download and use the app, but whose device is not supported. Unfortunately, at the moment we can’t overcome these limitations.
We’re aware of how important it is that the highest possible number of people can use COVID Alert Malta. If there’s any news on this topic, rest assured that we’ll share it promptly.
Can I access my profile from multiple devices?
No. With COVID Alert Malta, you don’t create a profile like you’re used to doing with many other apps. Therefore, if you install the app on a new device, there’s no way for COVID Alert Malta to understand that you’re the same user.
Is the app going to drain my smartphone’s battery or make it overheat?
You shouldn’t notice a sigificant difference in terms of battery life, nor should your smartphone overheat. COVID Alert Malta uses Bluetooth Low Energy, a technology designed to be particularly energy efficient. It’s the same technology used by smartwatches and wireless earphones to stay continuously connected to smartphones.
However, even if you think that your smartphone’s battery is being drained faster than usual or that it’s overheating slightly, please keep using the app the right way. Your contribution is an important part of making COVID Alert Malta effective at helping us fight the epidemic and returning to normal as soon as possible.
Can COVID Alert Malta affect or disable other Bluetooth devices I use?
Bluetooth-enabled devices, such as wireless speakers, wireless headphone, smartphones, hands-free car systems do not interfere with the app.
Can minors use the app?
You must be at least 13 years old to use COVID Alert Malta.
How can I contribute to the Open Source Project?
If you want to contribute, head over to GitHub to get started.
You can also read the documentation, learn about our Code of Conduct and find out how to contribute on the Community Page.
Is COVID Alert Malta run by the Government?
Yes. COVID Alert Malta is the proximity tracking app of the Government of Malta, developed by the Malta Information Technology Agency, in collaboration with the Ministry for Health and the Malta Digital Innovation Authority.
Do I need to pay to use COVID Alert Malta?
No. COVID Alert Malta is completely free of charge.
Can I choose not to use the app?
COVID Alert Malta is a valuable tool in the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, and every single user increases its overall effectiveness. We strongly urge you to install COVID Alert Malta, use it correctly, and encourage your friends and loved ones to do likewise. However, you are not compelled to use it.
It is entirely your choice and you will not suffer from any form of disadvantage or discriminatory action for choosing not to use the app.
Can I use the app without internet connection?
COVID Alert Malta doesn’t require a continuous internet connection. However, the app does need to connect to the internet at least once a day. This is so that the app can download the information necessary to check if you’ve been exposed to potentially contagious users. Therefore, please make sure your smartphone is connected to the internet at least once a day.
Can I change the language of the app?
The languages currently supported are English and Maltese(Malti).
Does COVID Alert Malta work in all countries?
You can download COVID Alert Malta from anywhere in the world. However, so far, you can use it only in Malta.
• The app only connects to the server (for example, to download the keys of users who tested positive for the virus) if you’re within the European Union. Currently, connections to the server from other territories are not supported for security reasons.
• Should you test positive for the virus, you’ll have to be in Malta to be able to enter the code into the app that will upload your keys to the server.
As of today, the app detects only contact with other COVID Alert Malta users. It doesn’t detect contact with users of exposure notification apps used in other countries.
How does the upload of my data work? Can I decide to upload my data whenever I want?
The data upload feature is only needed for users who have tested positive for the virus. In such cases, the user can decide to enter the code that will upload the cryptographic keys associated with their device to COVID Alert Malta’s server, to enable COVID Alert Malta to notify users at risk of infection. To ensure that only users who have actually tested positive for the virus may upload their cryptographic keys, the code will be provided to the user by a member of the Public Health team.
COVID Alert Malta tells me I may be at risk, but I feel fine. What should I do?
We urge you to follow COVID Alert Malta’s guidance in full. There are many asymptomatic people who have unknowingly spread the disease. One of COVID Alert Malta’s biggest strengths is in notifying these people. Please, play your part by following all the recommendations, even if you doubt that you’re infected or contagious.
I was somewhere or with someone that I would like to keep private. Does COVID Alert Malta compromise this?
No. The system is based on Bluetooth Low Energy technology, which doesn’t use any geolocation data whatsoever, including GPS data. The codes broadcast by the smartphones are randomly generated and change multiple times each hour. Therefore, the app can’t tell where any contact with a potentially contagious user took place, nor the identities of those involved. As such, your privacy is protected.
Do I need to sign up with my email address and password?
No. The app doesn’t collect any data that would make it possible to know your identity. For example, it doesn’t ask for (and can’t obtain) your name, date of birth, address, telephone number, or email address.
Does COVID Alert Malta need to be in the foreground to work? Can I use other apps?
COVID Alert Malta operates in the background, as long as your smartphone is turned on and Bluetooth is active. You can use other apps as normal.
Do I need to keep my smartphone’s Bluetooth turned on all the time?
Yes. The exposure notification system is based on Bluetooth Low Energy, so Bluetooth must always be active for the system to detect your contact with other users.
I often keep my phone on airplane mode. Is this OK?
Yes, as long as you still keep Bluetooth active. That way, COVID Alert Malta will continue to work as intended. You should connect to the internet at least once a day.
How much data traffic does COVID Alert Malta consume?
Very little. Every day, the app downloads any new cryptographic keys of SARS-CoV-2-positive users’ devices.
The app prompted me to update it: What happens if I don’t do so?
The updates aim to improve the effectiveness of the system, including fixing potentially critical issues. Therefore, it’s important to update your COVID Alert Malta app when a new version becomes available. If the update is deemed necessary, the app will send you a notification. However, the decision of whether or not to update the app is ultimately up to you.
What happens if I delete the app or change phones?
Deleting the application will also delete all locally stored data. The user can no longer share the data. In the case of changing your phone, the application needs to be reinstalled and all past data related to COVID Alert Malta will be lost
How does COVID Alert Malta measure distance and duration of contact?
COVID Alert Malta uses the Received Signal Strength Indicator(RSSI) measurement values of signal strength between the phones. RSSI calibrated values are used to estimate the approximate distance between users, while the duration of such a connection is recorded by the mobile application itself.
How do I get notified that I’ve been exposed to a potentially contagious user? What do I have to do in such a case?
If the app detects that you’ve been exposed to a potentially contagious user, it notifies you. In such a case, you’ll find recommendations on what to do within the app. For example, the app will recommend that you call Helpline 111 to request a test. There’s no obligation to follow the app’s recommendations, but we strongly encourage you to do so to protect your health, and that of your loved ones and the community.
What conditions need to occur for the app to notify me of a risky exposure? For example, at what distance and for how long do I need to have been exposed to a user who later tests positive for the virus?
When two smartphones on which the app is installed are within a few metres of each other, they start exchanging random codes to record that contact took place. However, for you to be notified of a risky exposure, it’s not enough that your smartphone has recorded the contact with a user who later tested positive for the virus. The following conditions need to occur:
• The user who tested positive for the virus must have uploaded their cryptographic keys to COVID Alert Malta’s server to enable the notification of the users to whom they have been exposed;
• As established by the Ministry for Health, the exposure must have taken place for more than 15 minutes at a distance of less than 2 metres.
Smartphones cannot measure the distance at which contact takes place directly. Hence, COVID Alert Malta leverages the attenuation of the Bluetooth Low Energy signal to estimate it. Calibration tests have been carried out to refine this estimate as much as possible. However, the estimate cannot be precise due to a number of disruptive factors. Therefore, the app cannot guarantee with absolute certainty that the distance was actually less than 2 metres. What is certain is that, if you receive a notification for a risky exposure, you’ve been in the proximity of a potentially contagious user for a prolonged period of time.
I’ve just updated iOS on my iPhone to a version that in theory should enable the use of COVID Alert Malta. However, when I open the app, it tells me that a more recent version of iOS is required. What should I do?
You’ve probably not completed the iOS update process. To update iOS, you must complete two steps:
1. Download the latest version;
2. Install it.
To download the latest version of iOS, you must be connected to Wi-Fi. Otherwise, the button to start the download will be disabled. Go to Settings > General > Software Update. If you’ve downloaded the latest version of iOS, but you haven’t installed it yet, tap ‘Install Now’. To verify that the installation has completed correctly, go to Settings > General > About. ‘Software Version’ should display version 13.5 or above.
The operating system asks me to enter my credit card details before I can download COVID Alert Malta. Why?
If the operating system asks you to enter your credit card details to download the app, you’ve probably not completed the configuration of your Apple account (on iOS smartphones) or Google account (on Android smartphones). On iOS, you can choose ‘None’ from the payment methods suggested. On Android, you can choose ‘Skip’ when asked to specify a payment method. COVID Alert Malta is completely free and you can download it without specifying a payment method.
Why does the device location setting need to be enabled on Android Devices for the Exposure Notification System to work?
Since 2015 Android has required that the Android device’s location setting be enabled to scan for other Bluetooth devices because it’s technically possible to use Bluetooth to infer user location.
The Exposure Notifications System uses Bluetooth scans to detect other devices that have opted into Exposure Notifications, although it does not use or share any location information. Exposure Notifications apps can’t request location access permission, but the system still needs the device’s location setting to be on so the Exposure Notifications System can detect nearby devices that also have Exposure Notifications enabled.
Android continues to prohibit access to any apps that do not have the user’s permission to use Android device location, even when the device’s location is enabled.
To make it clearer that Google does not collect location data when turning on Exposure Notifications, Android is pursuing an update to decouple the Bluetooth scanning for Exposure Notifications from the device location setting in the upcoming Beta 3 release of Android 11.