Group of Shopify volunteers create free COVID-19 contact tracing app

A group of Shopify volunteers have created COVID Shield, an app that offers COVID-19 exposure notifications, aimed at helping support contact tracing efforts.

The Shopify employees built the app to be free to use, with CEO Tobi Lütke tweeting on Friday that COVID Shield “can be deployed in any country, translated, and modified to local requirements.” He added that the app is audited and open source.”

“No more ‘we don’t have the local capabilities to develop this’ arguments,” Lütke wrote.

Contact tracing is the practice of tracking people who may have come in contact with an infected person. Tracing those people allows them to get tested and isolate if needed. As economies begin to open up, contact tracing is widely viewed as vital to pandemic recovery.

On Wednesday, Apple and Google released smartphone technology, which they teamed up to build, in order to help notify individuals automatically if they may have been exposed to the COVID-19. The initiative uses Bluetooth wireless technology to detect when someone who downloaded the app was near another app user who may have tested positive for the virus.

Apple and Google have noted that 22 countries have already expressed interest in building contact tracing phone apps using their technology.

During his daily briefing on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau emphasized the importance of contact tracing as Canada moves into the next phase of pandemic recovery. He said his government is looking to work closely with provincial governments to do so, offering volunteers and financial support.

The prime minister also spoke to Apple and Google’s efforts, noting that Canada has been working closely with the two tech giants on contact tracing. He added, however, that the federal government is working with a number of different partners on contract tracing apps and hopes that the country will adopt just one.

He said a “clearer picture” on this decision is likely to come in June.

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The Shopify volunteers created their contact tracing app based on the exposure notification technology provided by Apple and Google. The COVID Shield website called the Silicon Valley tech giants’ tech “the most privacy-preserving approach currently available.”

The idea behind COVID Shield is to provide a “private, secure, and easy-to-use tool to help governments launch their own exposure notification systems.”

Shopify, Apple, and Google are not the only tech companies looking to provide contact tracing solutions. Waterloo-based startup Mappedin, which offers indoor mapping services, has created its own contact tracing solution with the aim to help make workplaces safer. Mappedin actually works with Apple to provide “indoor positioning” on iOS devices as well as with a variety of partners for Android devices.

Toronto-based startup Cinchy, which has created a data collaboration network focused on finance and healthcare, has also been in talks with Canadian health authorities to help them connect and collect data amid the pandemic.

Shopify has open sourced its work behind COVID Shield, making the app available on GitHub. Lütke also noted on Twitter that all the design assets have been shared open-source on Figma.

Meagan Simpson

Meagan Simpson

Meagan is the Associate Editor for BetaKit. A tech writer that is super proud to showcase the Canadian tech scene. Background in almost every type of journalism from sports to politics. Podcast and Harry Potter nerd, photographer and crazy cat lady.