The Ontario government is investing $2.5 million in an Ontario-made wearable contact tracing device that will alert users if they’ve been near someone with COVID-19.
The company anticipates manufacturing about 150,000 devices under the project and creating 68 new jobs, including software, firmware and hardware engineers and machine learning specialists.
The government launched the $50 million Ontario Together Fund last year to help businesses retool their operations to produce PPE and develop technology-driven solutions and services for businesses to reopen safely.
Although the Ontario government doesn’t mention privacy policies or potential concerns in its news release, it says TraceSCAN technology is designed to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 for workplaces and settings where smartphone use is limited or prohibited, such as airlines, schools, construction sites, and long-term care homes. The device is meant to be a supplementary piece to the COVID Alert app launched last year.
Facedrive Health, a division of Facedrive Inc., has been working with the University of Waterloo on TraceSCAN since May 2020. TraceSCAN has already been deployed in multiple pilot projects, leading to the successful adoption of the technology in real-world settings. Some of the businesses and organizations using TraceSCAN include Air Canada, LiUNA and Waywayseecappo First Nation.
Not everyone, however, is happy about the news. Privacy expert and the executive director of the Global Privacy and Security by Design Centre, Ann Cavoukian, expressed her frustration shortly after the announcement.
Appalling! Throwing money away to track you and disable your privacy: Ontario investing $2.5M in wearable tracing tech that will beep or vibrate if people aren’t 6 feet apart https://t.co/TNSbkwtimQ
— Ann Cavoukian, Ph.D. (@AnnCavoukian) February 19, 2021
“Appalling! Throwing money away to track you and disable your privacy: Ontario investing $2.5M in wearable tracing tech that will beep or vibrate if people aren’t 6 feet apart,” Cavoukian noted in a tweet.
Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, said new contact tracing technologies will help protect essential workers until the province receives a “sufficient number of vaccines.”
“My door is always open to new and innovative solutions to help keep workers safe during COVID-19,” he said.