For the past three months, we have all lived and breathed COVID-19. In the last week or two, you will have likely heard a lot of news about the COVIDSafe app.
The application has been developed by the Australian government to assist in slowing the spread of coronavirus and help us all return towards our daily lives.
COVIDSafe has been welcomed with a mixed response, many praising the solution as an innovative and necessary endeavour by the government – while others note privacy concerns as a reason not to download it.
Naturally, you have probably wondered – should I download it?
Let’s take a look.
What exactly is COVIDSafe?
COVIDSafe is a smartphone application (app) that’s main purpose is to help health officials quickly notify individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19, and thus limit the spread of the virus.
How does the COVIDSafe app work?
When activated, COVIDSafe utilises your phone’s Bluetooth to recognise other devices that also have the app installed. When the application records an interaction the date, time, distance, and duration are recorded – as well as the individual’s encrypted user ID’s. The app only saves 21-day’s worth of data.
The data that is collected doesn’t go anywhere – it is saved to your phone and securely encrypted.
Only when you become infected with COVID-19 (and we hope you don’t!) can you choose to upload the data. This will help health officials track who you have been in contact with for the last 21 days – and notify them of the contact and the need to be tested.
How do I install it and get it working?
Once COVIDSafe has been installed, you are prompted to provide your name, mobile number, postcode, and age range. You can also use a nickname or pseudonym.
Next, you will receive an SMS text confirmation to your phone, which prompts the app to create a unique encrypted reference code securely on your phone. The app is active while ever you have Bluetooth switched on.
Can I uninstall the app if I want to?
Yes, you can. In fact, once the coronavirus pandemic is controlled or eliminated, the Australian Government will send you a message to uninstall it. This also means your data won’t be kept forever.
What does COVIDSafe change or access on my phone?
The app (on Android) gives permission for your phone to:
- Start when your phone starts
- Record your location*
- View network connections
- Access your Bluetooth settings and pair with other devices using Bluetooth
- Access your network
*Android/Google requires all applications that access Bluetooth to also obtain location permissions. As a result, COVIDSafe requires these permissions, however they are not accessed or stored by the app.
Many apps you use now already access these features on your device, such as Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and your navigation app of choice.
What are the benefits of downloading the app?
COVID-19 is the worst virus to infect the world in more than 100 years. Globally, over 3 million people have been infected and over 250,000 have died so far.
Containing and stopping the coronavirus is something we all must do. The impact on our country and state, on our economy and jobs, on our way of life, and on our families was unthinkable a few months ago. A healthy community is a safe and prosperous community.
The app minimises the spread of COVID-19 and helps protect vulnerable Tasmanians. If enough people download the app, it also means the Government will start to lift restrictions on our daily lives and enable us to work and travel more freely.
Our families have all been affected by the virus, and anything that moves us closer and quicker to resuming our freedoms is a clear benefit.
What about my privacy?
It’s smart to think through the privacy aspects of the app. We support you delving into it.
❶ It is good to understand what data the app records:
- User ID of the person you were in contact with
- Date and time of the contact
- Strength of the Bluetooth signal of the phone of the other person
This is far less information than most people realise.
❷ The app doesn’t track where you are. It only records who you were closer than 1.5 meters, when and for how long. In fact, other apps from tech giants (like Google, Apple etc) are far more intrusive by comparison.
❸ All data is encrypted. All data is automatically deleted after 20 days. The app only keeps data for the period that COVID-19 is infectious.
❹ Data cannot be read on your phone by other people. It remains encrypted and is eventually deleted if you remain free of coronavirus.
❺ You control the upload of the encrypted data if you contract COVID-19. Most people comment that it’s reasonable if this happens in order to protect others in the community.
Consider checking out these articles: “I’m a privacy expert – and I’ve downloaded the COVIDSafe app” and “Has your MP downloaded the coronavirus tracing app?“
So, should I download the application?
Like most things in life, there are pros and cons associated with this decision.
In the modern age, there will also be questions asked about privacy and safeguarding our personal information and rightfully so. However, this is one time that the benefits outweigh the potential risks.
The devastation caused through the loss of life, unemployment, social isolation, economic recession – the list goes on – is the worst in four generations. If the app can help prevent spread – and get us back to our lives – it seems worth doing on balance.