AlohaSafe Alert App Approved for Statewide Use in Hawaii for Contact Tracing - Identity Review - Identity Review | Global Tech Think Tank

Last week, the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) announced the approval for statewide use of the AlohaSafe Alert app, a mobile application designed to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The app was developed through a public-private partnership with DOH, aio Digital, Hawaii Executive Collective and Every1ne Hawaii, and was first piloted on Lanai and Hana in Hawaii last November. AlohaSafe Alert use was further extended into Maui and Hawaii counties in December 2020 before it received its statewide approval.

AlohaSafe Alert App

How it Works

The AlohaSafe Alert app aims to slow the spread of the virus by notifying users who come into close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. It does so by leveraging Bluetooth communication between smartphones.

According to the AlohaSafe Alert website, devices running the app “ping” each other, measuring the strength of the Bluetooth signal and duration of interaction. When the app senses a close contact, the two devices exchange a secure, random, anonymous code. 

A user’s phone will ping nearby devices to measure exposure criteria.

A user’s phone will ping nearby devices to measure exposure criteria.

If a user tests positive for COVID-19, they will have the ability to share the anonymous codes their phone has transmitted. By sharing the codes, anyone the person exchanged codes with (that meet the minimum exposure criteria), will receive an anonymous notification of possible exposure to COVID-19.

For this notification to be triggered, devices the user was in proximity to in the past 14 days must meet a minimum threshold of exposure—a distance of six feet or less for a minimum of 15 minutes. The 15 minute threshold is cumulative, so a notification will be sent if a user was in close contact with one or more positive individuals for a total of at least 15 minutes.

“This app has the potential to greatly increase the speed of the exposure notification process, allowing anyone who receives an alert to quickly self-quarantine and get tested if needed,” said Dr. Libby Char, the director of the Hawaii Department of Health.

Protecting User Privacy

Due to its use of Bluetooth, the AlohaSafe Alert app does not require the tracking of any geolocation or GPS data. Furthermore, the use of exchanging anonymous codes means that the app also does not store any personally identifiable information or share user identities with other users.

The application is designed to complement the use of traditional contact tracing methods, meaning that state officials from Hawaii will not be informed about a user’s possible exposure to COVID-19. Ultimately, the app exists as a free and voluntary yet effective way to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“AlohaSafe Alert will help to empower our residents to protect themselves, their families and their community,” said Hawaii Governor David Ige. “We appreciate the partnership formed between DOH and the private sector to develop this useful tool and help Hawaii remain one of the states with the lowest infection rates in the country.”


Serena He is a Tech Innovation Fellow from the University of Southern California who is interested in AI and the intersection of design and technology. She enjoys covering news across the digital identity and tech space.

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