Following on from the release of its official coronavirus information app, the Australian Government has now launched its voluntary CovidSafe tracking app with the goal of tracing the spread of Covid-19 more accurately.
Available now for Android and iOS, the CovidSafe app works by recognising and keeping track of other devices with the app installed and Bluetooth switched on, essentially keeping a record of the people (who have also opted in) who come within 1.5 metres of you for a period of at least 15 minutes.
The idea is that the app will speed up the current process of notifying people who have been in close proximity to someone with Covid-19.
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The CovidSafe app will take note of the “date, time, distance and duration of the contact,” as stated by the Department of Health's website.
If diagnosed with Covid-19, users will have the option of consenting to the release of their contact data, in turn allowing the app to get in touch with other users who have been in close proximity to the affected patient.
While the app's source code has not been released at this time, Twitter developer Matthew Robbins has independently decompiled the Android app and has found it to be “above board, very transparent and follows industry standard,” as reported by Ausdroid.
The collected personal data will reportedly be encrypted and stored on your device alone and will be automatically deleted after 21 days. If you are under 16 years of age, a parent or guardian will have to consent for you.
For the app to work, the site admits that some data will have to be recorded elsewhere. This includes “the encrypted user ID, date and time of contact and Bluetooth signal strength of other COVIDSafe users with which you come into contact.”
The policy states that a new “encrypted user ID will be created every 2 hours,” however, this information “will be logged in the National COVIDSafe data store, operated by the Digital Transformation Agency, in case you need to be identified for contact tracing.”
The data store is described as a “cloud-based facility, using infrastructure located in Australia, which has been classified as appropriate for storage of data up to the ‘protected’ security level.”
As for how long your data will remain in the cloud, the Department of Health's website states that “We will delete all data in the data store after the COVID-19 pandemic has concluded as required by the Biosecurity Determination.”
Your data will reportedly also be deleted if you uninstall the CovidSafe from your device or if you “upload your contact data to the data store.”
The policy stresses that “No location data (data that could be used to track your movements) will be collected at any time.” The Australian Government has also released a more thorough 78-page Privacy Impact Assessment in PDF form.
Other issues and concerns
For the CovidSafe app to work effectively, your device's Bluetooth will need to remain switched on at all times so that the app can continuously ping other users. Of course, this is expected to drain your phone's battery life quicker than usual.
While Android devices will be able to run the CovidSafe app in the background, meaning “you can use your phone as normal without having to open or check COVIDSafe,” the app FAQ stipulates that iOS devices will need to “Keep COVIDSafe running and notifications on when you're out and about, especially in meetings and public places” – a barrier which could prove a nuisance for many.
That said, while the app certainly has its drawbacks, it appears to be secure and seems to take users' privacy into consideration.
With this in mind, potential users will need to weigh these minor downsides against the app's proposed benefits – namely, a far more accurate way of tracing the spread of coronvirus, which should in turn help speed up Australia's return to normalcy (or something like it).