COVIDaware MN app investigation

Imported from Originally published: 2020-11-27

starless 2020-11-27

Greetings to Netizens and Minnesotans!

It's your friendly neighborhood Cyberians here with an update on the new COVIDaware app as announced by the Governor.

You might be wondering: “Hey, how bullshit is this app? Will it track me when I sleep, will it tell the cops where I am for no good reason, will it take my firstborn son?”

We were wondering these things, too. We're hard at work finding answers to all these questions and more, and due to the urgent nature of the pandemic, wanted to give you an update.

Recently, the state of Minnesota released an app to help manage COVID-19 contact tracing, The COVIDaware MN app is based on an open source foss app for something called 'contact tracing', which helps people backtrack the places they've been in the last two weeks, should they later learn that they were contagious but pre-symptomatic for COVID-19. Due to the delicate nature of this sort of app, we reached out to the folks who wrote the open source app that COVIDaware MN is based on, and got a handful of helpful replies back.1 We also reached out to the state of Minnesota, but haven't gotten a response yet.2

The app that COVIDaware is based on is very privacy-friendly and the company behind it seems to have good values, but we still don't know exactly how much that source code was customized before it was released for use by Minnesotans. It's likely that the state's IT folks just added the appropriate assets to customize links to the local health department and that sort of thing, but we won't know that for sure without a response to our inquiry. There's a chance they've inadvertently done more than that, too— we'd love to read over the source code and check the modifications the state of Minnesota made to the FOSS base app.

We'll let you know when we hear back from the state, but for now, the base app looks very promising.

Additionally, should it become feasible (likely dependent on the state of Minnesota releasing the source code for the app), we're already hoping to be an alternative source for the official app, should you prefer something that's built on hardware not managed by the state of Minnesota.

We hope to hear back from our fair state government soon, and until then, wish you all a warm & safe holiday season!

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