While Australia certainly seems to be flattening the curve in relation to COVID-19, the Federal Government is still aware that a second wave of cases is entirely possible. In an effort to prevent this, the Government has developed an app (known as COVIDSafe) that keeps track of anyone who has been infected and who they have come into close contact with.
The app has made news headlines around the world, with many raising concerns over both its helpfulness and its impact on privacy. To ensure you’re well-informed, here’s what you need to know about using the app.
What information does the app ask for?
After downloading the app from either the App Store or Google Play Store, you will be asked to enter your name, postcode, phone number and age range. The app will not ask for your home address, visa details, or keep track of your location.
The app is only available in the Australian App Store and Google Play Store, so if you’re a recently arrived international student and haven’t made the switch yet but want to download the app, now is the time to do so.
How does it work?
The app is based on the same software as TraceTogether, a Singaporean app. COVIDSafe uses Bluetooth to maintain a log of connections that the user’s phone comes into contact with, making it easier for health authorities to track those who’ve been near the recently infected.
In the event that you test positive for COVID-19, you can consent to have your information updated to the Government’s server. This will allow local health officials to contact those you’ve been in contact with over the past 14 days, informing them to either get tested for COVID-19 or self-isolate.
After 21 days, the data is deleted.
Do I need to download it?
The app is not a mandatory download. After saying that the app was not his “preferred option”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that downloading the app is instead a ‘civic duty’. He has stated that, while it is not mandatory to download the app, doing so will allow the country to take a step towards relaxing its social distancing measures.
That being said, the state governments in Victoria and NSW have announced that they will not be making the download or use of the app a necessary step in easing social distancing.
Will my privacy be respected?
The Government has been clear that privacy will be respected when using this app. Health Minister Greg Hunt published a direction that forbids the data from being used for purposes other than tracing COVID-19. This means that it cannot be used by law enforcement and even court orders will not be able to force access to the data.
Additionally, the data will only be uploaded to government servers (hosted by Amazon Web Services) and will remain in Australia, and only health authorities will have access to the data.
You can delete the app at any time without consequences and the Government has promised that the data will be deleted after the pandemic, though you can request manual deletion before the pandemic ends.
Is Amazon Web Services (AWS) secure?
Some may be concerned to hear that Amazon is hosting the data, largely due to the issues surrounding their smart speaker devices. However, AWS is one of the largest cloud computing companies in the world and has even worked with the Australian Government in the past – it hosted the 2017 postal survey and is set to host the 2021 Census.
Plus, AWS already hosts data for banks and airlines, it has the highest data security ratings in Sydney, and the Australian Government is legislating to prevent data being moved offshore.