Inslee announces statewide COVID-19 exposure notification tool
WA Notify uses privacy-preserving technology and works without collecting or revealing any location or personal data
Gov. Jay Inslee, along with the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), today announced the launch of WA Notify, a simple, anonymous exposure notification tool to help stop the spread of COVID-19. By adding WA Notify to their smartphones, Washington residents will be alerted if they spent time near another WA Notify user who later tests positive for COVID-19.
WA Notify uses privacy-preserving technology jointly developed by Google and Apple and works without collecting or revealing any location or personal data.
“Secure, private and anonymous exposure notification technology is an important tool for Washington,” Inslee said Monday. “We’ve deployed WA Notify in 29 languages so as many Washington residents as possible can protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities. I encourage everyone to start using WA Notify today so we can continue to work together to contain this virus.”
Data models for three counties in Washington found that COVID-19 infections and deaths could be reduced if even a small percentage of people enabled WA Notify. Studies from Oxford University and Stanford also show that the more people who use exposure notification technology, the more effective it is.
“WA Notify complements the actions Washington residents are already taking, like wearing masks, physical distancing and keeping gatherings small,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “We’re excited to be joining the states already using this safe and secure technology and encourage all Washingtonians to join the effort.”
When voluntarily activated, phones with WA Notify use Bluetooth technology to exchange random codes with the phones of other users they are near. It does this without revealing a user’s identity or location. Users who test positive for COVID-19 can enter a verification code provided by public health into WA Notify, so that other users who have been near them within the last 14 days can be anonymously alerted and take appropriate action.
WA Notify is free and can be enabled in iPhone settings or downloaded as an app from the Google Play Store for Android phones. Users can opt out at any time. Several states including Virginia, New York and Colorado are using this tool. Countries successfully using this technology include Ireland, Canada and Germany.
“People are understandably concerned these days about being tracked and having their personal information compromised,” said Associate Professor Stefano Tessaro with the UW Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. “However, the technology behind WA Notify has been vetted by security and privacy experts across the world, and it does not collect or store any information that personally identifies its users. I plan to add WA Notify to my phone and I will encourage my friends and family to use it as well.”
Before launching WA Notify, Washington state received a recommendation to adopt the technology from an oversight committee which included security and civil liberties experts and community leaders representing communities of color, individuals with disabilities and other communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The committee originally examined an app developed by the University of Washington (UW) that informed the technology for the Google Apple solution.
UW contributors to the app include the schools of computer science, medicine, public health and nursing, as well as support from the Brotman Baty Institute. The UW tested WA Notify with students during the month of November to help inform a successful statewide roll-out.
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