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Explained: How Covid Tracer app's new Bluetooth upgrade works

From today, it’ll be a whole lot easier to keep track of your movements with the NZ Covid Tracer app.

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Once enabled, devices regularly beam out Bluetooth signals with unique ID codes. Source: 1 NEWS

The software is getting a major upgrade on most smartphones. It'll use Bluetooth to record close contacts, even when the app is closed.

The system, developed by Apple and Google, transmits a signal from your phone allowing it to swap "randomised keys" with other phones with the new update.

Effectively, it’s a digital handshake, with both devices recording the interaction.

These "randomised keys" don’t include any personal information or location data.

When an app user tests positive for Covid-19, they’re able to alert people who have a copy of their key on their phone, warning them they’re a close contact of a case.

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NZ Covid Tracer app gets major Bluetooth upgrade, to allow auto contact tracing

The Ministry of Health will not know you have received an alert unless you choose to get in touch for information and advice.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins says the update is another useful tool to have heading into the December.

“As summer approaches and Kiwis take holidays and travel more around the country, this new Bluetooth functionality adds to the tools we already have and improves our chances of getting on top of any potential outbreak quickly – as long as we use them,” he said.

“It’s vitally important that New Zealanders see Bluetooth as an additional tool that will help to speed up contact tracing.”

“We need to continue to scan QR codes wherever we go, and businesses, services and public transport providers must keep displaying their QR code posters at all alert levels.”

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The Minister for Covid-19 Response says the Bluetooth upgrade wouldn’t replace checking in with the app. Source: 1 NEWS

What about my privacy?

The app has been endorsed by the Privacy Commissioner, with the Ministry of Health committing to releasing the source code of the app, so New Zealanders can see how the app manages their data.

This latest update is also opt-in, with the Bluetooth tracing option turned off by default.

The information stays on your device, and you’ll only be asked to hand it over if you test positive for Covid-19.

How effective is it?

Other countries have been using Bluetooth tracing for some time, but it is not the perfect solution in contact tracing.

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If you’ve ever struggled to get your Bluetooth headphones to connect to your phone, you’ll know that this tech can be patchy.

Additionally, not everyone will be comfortable using the new update, which is why it’ll still be critical to scan and check in.