There has been a lot of negative publicity towards the Australian Government’s COVID-19 tracking app as of late but it has not deterred the authorities forging ahead and today they have launched COVIDSafe onto the Google Play Store.
In case you are unaware the app uses Bluetooth on your phone to look for other devices with the COVIDSafe app installed. The device will “take a note of contact you’ve had with others” and does so securely apparently by logging the other user’s reference code.
Then, if you or someone who you’ve been in contact with is diagnosed with COVID-19 the close contact information stored securely in your phone can be uploaded by state and territory health officials to trace others who have been exposed to the virus. Of course the phone asks for your permission to upload said information before doing so.
The opposite is of course also true where if someone you were in contact with is exposed to the virus or contracts it their data will be uploaded and you will be informed of this close contact so you can take appropriate steps and actions as directed by your state official.
To ensure the app works it needs to be continually running in the background which may or may not kill your battery — time will tell just how much battery life it consumes. Identities of those near you are not revealed to your device, just their reference numbers.
The app asks for your full name, age range and postcode, along with your phone number.
The app does attempt to explain how the app works and how it helps with the spread of COVID-19. How many people actually read that will be interesting. It is important to read it though to allay any fears of privacy someone may have.
More details of the app can be found at the Government’s new website but hopefully this app can do what it is meant to do which is prevent community spread of the COVID-19 disease and do so securely without leaking anyone’s details.
I’m not sure I trust the government not to leak these details somewhere. The app was meant to be open source and open source will usually lead to better security as researchers look for holes and ways to improve it but unfortunately the government back tracked on that. Today’s inauspicious launch has many wondering just how much they can trust the app, and with good reason.
The sooner we can prevent community spread the sooner we can get this country back to some semblance of normal, whatever normal will be on the other side of this. The app is also available for iOS devices if that is how you roll.