The Govt Has Launched Its Mobile Tracing App 'COVIDSafe' & We've Got All The Info You Need To Know Before Hitting Download
By now we're sure you've heard of COVIDSafe, the govt app designed to help healthcare professionals track and trace coronavirus cases in the community – but how much do you really know about how it all works, and what it means for your privacy? Read on for all the key info you need to know before you click 'download'. Here goes:
When was the COVIDsafe app released and what's it all about?
The app was released at 6pm (AEST) on Sunday and by 10.30pm, it had been downloaded by one million Aussies, reports the ABC. In a nutshell, the app helps state and territory health officials quickly contact people who may have been exposed to the virus, by tracking the people who now have the virus and looking, via the mobile data, at who they have been in close contact with recently. Downloading the app is completely voluntary, by the way.
“This means you’ll be contacted more quickly if you are at risk. This reduces the chances of you passing on the virus to family, friends and people in the community.”
The COVIDSafe app has been downloaded 1 million times https://t.co/vomYYoEPqD
— ABC News (@abcnews) April 26, 2020
How does the COVIDsafe app work?
When you download it, you’ll plug in your name (a pseudonym works too), mobile number, postcode and age range, and then you'll get a confirmation text. The system will then create a unique encrypted reference code just for you – all this encryped info will be stored by the govt on an Amazon Web Services server in Australia (yes, that Amazon).
You’ll then keep the app running as you go about your daily life. In fact, right now, you actually have to keep the app literally open and running all the time for it to work (the govt is trying to fix that glitch now). When you cross paths with someone with the app also running and with their mobile’s Bluetooth enabled, your app will note the date, time, distance and duration of the contact, plus the other user’s reference code.
What happens when someone tests positive for COVID-19?
This is where all the data comes in handy. When someone is diagnosed with COVID-19, the encrypted contact info from the app will be uploaded to a “highly secure information storage system”, according to its site.
Then, the information of every person who also has the app that the positive COVID-19 case has been in contact with recently will be passed on to state and territory health authorities. Health officials will get in touch with those people and offer advice on the next steps.
Why are some people cautious of downloading COVIDsafe?
As with any app that collects your personal details and whereabouts, it’s definitely important to understand your privacy rights with COVIDSafe, and you're right to be cautious here.
The info collected on the app is encrypted (converted into a code to prevent unauthorized access) and that encrypted identifier is stored securely on your phone. “Not even you can access it,” says the site.
The contact info stored in people’s mobiles is deleted on a 21-day rolling cycle. And also, you can delete the app from your mobile at any time. Deleting the app will get rid of the info from your phone, but won’t get rid of the info in the secure info storage system. That’ll only be deleted at the end of the pandemic. If you want to get rid of it before, you can complete a request data deletion form.
It’ll be a criminal offence to use app data collected in any other way than for virus tracing purposes.
So, should I download the COVIDSafe app?
That one's totally up to you. It sounds like the govt has anticipated our privacy concerns and put some plans in place to ease anxieties on that front, but whether or not you choose to download it should come down to what you feel comfortable with. There's loads of great editorial pieces both for and against downloading the app that you can read up on too. For more COVIDSafe app FAQs, head here.
If your head is a little scrambled, make sure you pop over to WHO.int to get all of your official COVID-19 updates.
Main Image Credit: Licensed by Getty
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