More Than 1 Million Aussies Have Already Downloaded the Coronavirus Tracing App

Mobile Phone

The Australian Government’s COVIDSafe App was released at 6pm on April 26 and by 10:30pm, one million Aussies had downloaded it.

“As at 10:30pm 1 million Australians have now downloaded and registered for the #CovidSafeapp — please join us and help protect ourselves, our families, each other but above all else our nurses and doctors,” Health Minister Greg Hunt wrote on Twitter.

As of this morning, Hunt revealed that the number was sitting at 1.13 million, according to the ABC.

While downloading the app is voluntary, 40% of the population — roughly 10 million people — will need to download it in order for it to be effective.

“It assists in the early alert and finding of people who may have been in contact with a person who is positive with a diagnosis,” Hunt said of the app.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told ABC Radio that only healthcare professionals would have access to the data collected from the app.

“It’s another tool we need to get back to normal as much as we can,” he said.

“No other government agency can use this information, no one in the commonwealth government at all, and in state authorities, only the health officer can use it. Not the police, not the welfare people, nowhere else. Just the health officer.”

To download the app, simply go to the Apple app store or the Google Play store and install it.

When you download the app you will be asked to provide your name, mobile number, and postcode and age range. You will receive a confirmation SMS text message to complete installation. The system then creates a unique encrypted reference code just for you.

According to the Department of Health, the app works as follows: “COVIDSafe recognises other devices with the COVIDSafe app installed and Bluetooth enabled.”

“When the app recognises another user, it notes the date, time, distance and duration of the contact and the other user’s reference code. The COVIDSafe app does not collect your location.”

According to The Guardian, the app will store 21 days worth of data. This is basically all of the people you have been in contact with during that time period.

The data is only “uploaded to a government server, housed in Australia and run by Amazon, in the event that you test positive for coronavirus, and then consent for your log to be uploaded to the server,” as reported by The Guardian.

According to the ABC, when you delete the app, all of the stored data is also deleted from your phone. You can also request for any information that you have shared with the server (should you have tested positive for COVID-19) be wiped as well.

While it’s entirely a personal decision as to whether you want to download the app or not, here a few for and against arguments when it comes to the COVIDSafe App.

Reasons for downloading the app:

☆ It will help Australia fight the virus more effectively

Tracking people who have been in contact COVID-19 will be made easier via the app. Authorities will be able to get in touch with those who have been exposed and ask them to self-isolate much faster.

According to the Department of Health, “having confidence we can find and contain outbreaks quickly will mean governments can ease restrictions while still keeping Australians safe.”

So, the app could help us return to our ‘normal’ lives a little bit sooner if we’re able to get the virus under control.

Nobel laureate and immunologist, Peter Doherty, tweeted that he would be installing the app for this very reason.

“I’ll be signing up for the COVID-19 App. Anything that helps us wrestle COVID-19 to the ground is a plus,” he wrote.

“Any privacy any of us had pretty much disappeared when we started using mobile phones, searching on line, buying stuff from Amazon or whatever.”

☆ It’s no worse than installing a game on your phone, according to a tech expert

Mike Cannon-Brookes, the co-founder of software company Atlassian, thinks people should be using the app. And, he’s urged the tech community to help Aussie’s understand why it’s important.

“When asked by non-technical people “Should I install this app? Is my data / privacy safe? Is it true it doesn’t track my location?” — say “Yes” and help them understand,” he wrote on the website, Hacker News.

“Fight the misinformation. Remind them how little time they think before they download dozens of free, adware crap games that are likely far worse for their data & privacy than this ever would be!”

Cannon-Brookes also had a few more recommendations including to “turn the HN angry mob mode off — it’s not helpful. We’re all in this together.”

He also highlighted the positive things that the Morrison Government has done when it comes to the app.

“Commend the government on some smart privacy and security choices (data deleted after 21 days, open-source code, AWS in Australia, sensible sec practices etc). They won’t get it all right – and we as a tech community can help them. Find a bug & help get them closed,” he wrote.

Finally, Cannon-Brookes believes that the Government will eventually release the code as a tool of transparency.

“I believe the government, PM and various ministers have said the code will be released. My sources also say exactly the same,” he wrote.

“They’re obviously operating with extreme urgency to get the app out. For you.”

☆ You can use a fake name for the app

Yes, you’re able to use an alias for the COVIDSafe App! So, if you’re feeling a little unsure about downloading the app, consider using an alias.

The Department of Health has confirmed that this is possible, via its website.

“This will be easiest if you provide your full name, but you can use a pseudonym or fake name if you prefer​.”

Reasons against downloading the app:

☆ Concerns about privacy

Privacy has been the biggest concern when it comes to the COVIDSafe App and it’s an understandable worry.

In early April, Professor Dali Kaafar, the executive director of the Optus Macquarie University Cyber Security Hub, and a group of Aussie researchers assessed the issues with TraceTogether, the tracing app out of Singapore in which the Aussie app is based on.

According to The Feed, Professor Kaafar and the researchers made recommendations in order to help Australia avoid those same problems.

“The authority in charge of this app knows the social graph of perhaps thousands or hundreds of thousands of individuals,” Professor Kaafar told The Feed.

“The only information we don’t necessarily have is the location. We might not know where they met, but we know that they did meet.

“So the general concern is that this technology could be used later on as a mass surveillance tool.”

According to Professor Kaafar, having this data “creates a huge responsibility of maintaining the security of this data, and the safety of all of this data.”

“If someone hacks into the server that has this information, that’s a huge amount of information that’s being lost.”

While the Government has tried to alleviate some of these fears, the future of the data is still unknown.

“What will happen post-COVID-19?” Professor Kaafar told The Feed.

“Can we guarantee that if someone doesn’t uninstall this app after the pandemic, that the government won’t keep using this data for different purposes?”

It’s OK to feel uneasy about this conversation and ultimately you have to make the best decision for you, while also keeping in mind the health of those around you.

The current health crisis is evolving rapidly. If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

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