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COVIDSafe is Safe - Despite the Protests

Deb Turney

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COVIDSafe is Safe - Despite the Protests

Technology | Social | covid-19 | covidsafe | flattenthecurve | socialdistancing | epidemic | staysafe

To download or not to download - that is the question….. 

Privacy worries, Big Brother concerns, and personal information sharing are the biggest arguments against downloading the Australian Government’s COVIDSafe app, and I must admit I had my own issues with it. When they announced it was being launched I was adamant that I was having no part in it… 

That is until I did some research, spoke to a few people with more knowledge about the app and how it works, and decided to download it myself. 

As I write this almost 3 million Australians have downloaded the app, up a million from a few days ago. 

So I want to allay some of the trepidation, share my research, and give you some confidence to download the COVIDsafe app, or at least make your decision, with some pretty good arguments for the fact. 

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Testing is the First Step to Elimination.

Testing is undertaken to identify people with the virus even when not showing symptoms. Currently more tests are being undertaken in ‘hotspots’ and communities, and the significant role of the app is to amplify the requirements and pinpoint where this testing is further required. 

The people you have been in contact with and an individual reference code (more on that later) are stored in your phone. If you come into contact with someone that has tested positive, you will be notified via the app, so you can be tested. Inturn those that you have been in contact with will also be notified so they can be tested. 

The app simply assists in speeding up how health experts notify those of us that have been exposed to COVID-19. Much more streamlined than the manual process of identifying those that you have been in contact with and then physically contacting them. 

Therefore, the more people that have the app, the faster testing can happen for those that have been exposed - regardless of having symptoms or not. The sooner we can flatten the curve, the sooner we can get back to the new normal of daily life. 

GoogleMaps knows more about you than COVIDSafe

COVIDsafe uses Bluetooth - not your GPS, and doesn’t require to know WHERE you are, just who you are near. It’s a contact trace app, not a location app. It was developed to enhance the contact trace process that State and Territory Health officials undertake when you test positive; it streamlines the process. 

Through the Bluetooth permissions no locations are actually obtained.

About the Info…

Firstly it’s not compulsory to install the app, and you can delete it whenever you want. Bluetooth has to be enabled as you go about your everyday business, and you receive a daily advice notification that it’s running correctly.

COVIDsafe requires a name, phone number, postcode and age range. That’s it!

20200430_4_covidsafe_namedetails 20200430_5_covidsafe_mobilenumber 20200430_6_covidsafe_pinmessage 

When you download the app, and input required information, you get an SMS to complete the installation (that’s why your phone number is required). An encrypted reference code is generated for your app on your phone, and it’s changed every 2 hours while the app is running, to heighten security.

As the app gathers other user’s codes during ‘close contact’ this information is recorded on your phone. The date and time, distance and duration of the contact is also recorded. The location of the contact is NOT. The info is encrypted so you can’t even access it.  

The ‘close contact’ parameters are being within 1.5m for a period of 15 minutes or more. The distance is measured via the Bluetooth signal. 

FUN FACT: you don’t have to use your real name… so feel free to go to town…let’s hope that after all this seriousness, the Government releases a list of some of the fake names used - the laugh would be welcome relief… 

What happens to the info? 

The information is only uploaded to the Government server by you once you have been tested and tested positive. The encrypted information is then made available for health officials to contact others affected. This cycle continues if a user of the app who was a close contact subsequently tests positive. If you should be advised that you are positive, uploading the data is done at the click of a button. 

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Stored contact info is deleted on a 21 day rolling cycle; which means that contacts recorded outside the 21 day window are deleted from the stored information. This takes into account the virus incubation period if there’s no positive tested contact traces on your app. 

As the Covid-19 crisis settles down the track, we will be prompted by the app that it’s time to uninstall it, but like I said earlier, you can delete it anytime you want. 

My experience… 

Fundamentally I decided to go for it because let’s face it… I use Facebook, Google Search and LinkedIn daily, Instagram and maps regularly, and I have nowhere and nothing to hide anyway…like many of us… now if I was a bankrobber well…. I digress sorry...

The process is easy peasy! And I was taking screenshots throughout the process for this blog article. (Note some of the input info in the images is a lie for vanity and privacy sake for the article, which I corrected for real purpose!)

I am an Android user, so I did go into my app settings to turn off location permissions after I agreed to them during the process. I believe this is not necessary for iOS devices. 

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There’s a pretty awesome help section to the app that covers off any questions that you may have including battery life and mobile data usage. It’s all minimal and has been considered during development of the app. I will be keeping an eye on the battery optimisation option in the next few days. 

I do nothing now but let it run in the background, while I finish the rest of this article, post it online, wash my hands and then go about making a creamy chicken and leek pie!


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More Info & Light Reading

  • Security Concerns are addressed in the Government’s Privacy Impact Assessment
  • More detailed info can be found in the Health Department’s FAQ sheet.
  • COVIDsafe instructions and links can be found here

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