A million Australians download government’s COVIDSafe app in five hours

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It seems Australians are not that paranoid about technological security. The government’s COVID-19 tracing app COVIDSafe, sharply opposed by some, was downloaded by more than  a million people within five hours on Sunday evening.

Health minister Greg Hunt is spruiking COVIDSafe as possessing the “strongest data protection both physically and in law that Australia has ever had”. He’d hoped for one million users after five days.

Last week, experts such as law professor Graham Greenleaf from the University of New South Wales, sought “legal guarantees” to safeguard the rights of citizens using the software. Deputy speaker Llew O’Brien said the app was too “Big-Brotherish” for him and there was a “snowflake’s chance in hell” he would use it. The Law Council of Australia urged the government to institute “core design principles” in the app to safeguard privacy.

COVIDSafe is downloaded to a mobile phone. It uses bluetooth short-range wireless communication technology to anonymously record users who are within 1.5 metres of each other for about 15 minutes.

It aims to identify those exposed to COVID-19 once someone is diagnosed. Increased contact tracing, alongside widespread COVID-19 testing, will help allow an earlier easing of social distancing restrictions.

Users provide their name, phone number, their age range and postcode.

This allows public health officials to contact you if you have been exposed to the virus, Mr Hunt said.

Digital rights advocates have been demanding the release of the app’s source code.

Mr Hunt says that is coming within two weeks.

“The reason for that is that there’s a constant review of the safety and security,” he said.

“Our first task is to make sure the security assessment is done and that there is absolute protection of privacy above all else.

“The data has to be in Australia, has to stay in Australia. There’s a five-year jail term for anyone who breaches that security.”

The government says the app does not collect location data, that an infected person must consent to having their information shared and only health authorities would have access to the data.

Melbourne law firm Maddocks completed a 78-page Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) of the app. “We are satisfied that Australian government has considered the range of privacy risks associated with the app and has already taken steps to mitigate some of these risks,” Maddocks wrote.

The Australian Financial Review’s government editor, Tom Burton, reported the “gold standard” security measures being enacted. “The COVIDSafe app cannot be used to enforce quarantine or isolation restrictions, or any other laws. This will mean it will be unlawful for anyone to force the use of the app, for example for gaining entry to venues or work.

“Also prohibited is the handing over of any data to anyone other than state health agencies, including to any overseas entity or person.”

Stephen Fenech from techguide.com.au said the app “lived up to its promise of privacy and security”.

He quoted Matthew Robbins, a developer for MFractor, which downloaded and “decompiled” the app: “From what I can see, everything in the #covidsafe app is above board, very transparent and follows industry standard”.

Mr Robbins confirmed the data collected by the app is encrypted in a secure section of mobile phones and is not accessible by other apps; the app broadcasts a Bluetooth address, not a device name, and data is automatically deleted every 21 days.

Mr Fenech did find technological issues in the early hours of the app’s operation.

“The COVIDSafe app will only work with Android 6 and later.

“Android 6 was released in 2015, so if you if you are using a five-year old Android phone you might not be able to run the app.

“Another issue could arise from battery-saving features on various smartphones which may flag the COVIDSafe because it needs to be running constantly in the background to work.”

Apple and Google have announced new privacy tweaks to opt in contact tracing technology they are developing. Earlier this month they announced their decentralised contact tracing apps would be ‘anonymised’, and the service would be disabled once the virus has been contained. A US Senator, Josh Hawley of Missouri, pushed for the companies’ CEOs to be personally liable for data collected as part of the project. Germany is reportedly tweaking its app to use the decentralised system.

COVIDSafe app: how it works

  • COVIDSafe is an app for your mobile phone. Download it from the Apple App Store (iPhone) or the Google Play Store (Android). Search for COVIDSafe. If you don’t have an iPhone, your phone is most likely an Android.
  • Once the application is loaded, it will ask for consent to collect your details and to collect contact information gathered from other COVIDSafe app users.
  • You then supply your full name, mobile phone number, age and postcode. Once your number is submitted, you are sent a code by SMS to verify your registration.
  • The app needs to be running all the time on your phone. Keep notifications on so it keeps working in the background.
  • The app uses the Bluetooth on your smartphone to scan and detect anyone who is also running the app within 1.5 metres for 15 minutes.
  • If you need to be contacted after testing positive or being in contact with someone who tests positive, you will be asked to complete a two-factor authentication. You will then be asked to consent to upload the data in the app.

Also note:

  • The app is voluntary, not mandatory. The purpose of the app is “To identify people who may have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19 so that they can be advised to take measures to help stop the spread of the disease or get tested”.
  • No location data will be collected at any time.
  • Contact data stored on a device will be deleted after 21 days.
  • All data stored will be deleted once the pandemic has concluded.
  • A battery saving feature of some smartphones may flag the COVID Safe app because it is constantly running in the background.

Have you downloaded COVIDSafe? Will you? If not, why not?

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Written by Will Brodie


Total Comments: 66
  1. 0


  2. 0

    Won’t download.

  3. 0

    So, where do I go to download it please?

    • 0

      Depending whether you have an iPhone or Android, go to Google play or the Apple app store. Its free to download in either case.

  4. 0

    While I have downloaded the app I am not happy that the information will be stored in a facility owned by Amazon and American company. Who not one of the Australian companies who are quite capable of doing it.

    • 0

      If you do any online shopping or in fact any online transactions, chances are you are already stored on Amazon servers (cloud or earth) even if you have never shopped via Amazon.

    • 0

      It’s just a storage facility means nothing. Which company here could do it?

    • 0

      “ Government insiders and technology industry players have raised alarms about the Federal Government’s new COVID-19 tracing app, after a contract for its data storage went offshore to US retail and technology giant Amazon.

      Bureaucrats inside the Government’s Digital Transformation Agency voiced concerns about the awarding of the contract to an overseas provider when several wholly Australian-owned cloud storage services had been security vetted for precisely such high-level contracts.

      The ABC has also confirmed the tender was a limited, invitation-only opportunity initially run by the Department of Home Affairs, which is principally responsible for border protection and national security.” ABC

    • 0

      yep, one of the “several wholly Australian-owned cloud storage services had been security vetted for precisely such high-level contracts” could have done, but why did we choose a solution with a central server in the first place?

  5. 0

    I’m with Lew O’Brien, “snowflake’s chance ….”

    Firstly, it measures anyone we are within 1.5m of for at least 15minutes. But social distancing means we are not supposed to be that close to anyone, let alone for 15 minutes. We should only be that close to our partner and/or kids and I’m pretty sure we don’t need our phones to tell us that we’ve been close to them.

    Secondly, Amazon have been contracted to store the data instead of an Australian company. I don’t trust a US company.

    • 0

      Put your tin foil hat back on…. I bet you have an amazon account…. Do you ???

    • 0

      I certainly do not have an Amazon account and never will. And I’m not happy that Australian taxpayers are giving Amazon millions when there are Australian companies that have the capability to do the job. What happened to stimulating the Australian economy?

    • 0

      I’m with you Fedup, the data storage contract should have gone to an Australian company given the current state of the economy. Surprised it went to Amazon after the story the ABC ran a couple of weeks ago.

    • 0

      Whether you have an Amazon account or not, if you have ever done any online transactions you are probably already stored on Amazon Fedup. There are many many companies and organisations who use Amazon data storage. This is different in that the information you will be giving (and FYI you don’t even have to use your real name) is far less than that required to join this forum!

      And as for maintaining distance, you are quite right of course BUT, just look at what happens when the beaches are reopened for very specific reason i.e. swim or surf, and the high numbers of people NOT respecting the rules. Take a stroll in any open space or even shopping centres and you will see people not maintaining distance nor keeping moving.

      And one final point, the data is held in Australia (that means Australian jobs BTM), cannot be accessed by anyone other than the contact tracing team for the purpose of finding COVID-19 cases including other Amazon companies, the Government, police or Centrelink. And the data is deleted from your phone after 21 days and from Amazon after 6 months of the COVID-19 crisis being over.

    • 0

      Hey Tin Foil Hat person – you original comment mentioned about staying 1.5 metres away from each other. Yes true CURRENTLY.

      This App is for going forward to allow us to reduce the restrictions, allow more movement around the community. Open some more shops, cafes maybe, clubs, pubs, whatever. The App allows them to have details of your contacts if you test positive to the virus, those other people can than be alerted and tested.

      The same thing happens when they get a positive case only it’s done manually, an interview where all your movements are noted and than they TRY to contact those other people, very hard to do though, this just automates the process and is more accurate.

  6. 0

    Downloaded it about a dozen times but it won’t work for me.

  7. 0

    oh no not again with the silver foil brigade….

    The Govt knows where you live Licence to drive, ATO super computers, centrelink, internet, mobile phone tracking, Cameras everywhere….. what the hell does one more app mean….

    Anyone who thinks they are invisible in this day and age are FOOLS.

  8. 0

    This will not help me if I come in contact with a carrier, and they do not have the app installed on their phone

  9. 0

    So if you are a pickpocket or you get pickpocketed they would be able to trace the offender.??,you have to have a warrant to tap or trace phones ,this app will negate that law?.im not criminal minded but I think enough is enough,they got enough info on me I don’t wish to have my info out their in India and the like because that’s exactly what will happen ,how many call centres do telcos and other company’s in Aus including our own gov do bussiness through foreign places,trust is gone never to be revived especially goverment liars and rosters of taxpayers dollars not theirs ours.

    • 0

      If your phone was stolen, the police would not be able to track it using this app. Apart from the fact that they are barred by law from obtaining a warrant for the data on this app, there is NO geolocation associated with it so it would not help. However, if you have google maps for example that is a different issue and totally unrelated to this app but that quite possibly could be used to find the phone!

      Your data is not going overseas anywhere. It remains on your phone for 21 days and will be deleted from Amazon data storage after 6 months.

      Point of clarification, do you know where your data you gave YLC is stored and who has access to it? What about every other app or digital account you have (think phone and internet accounts, electricity, any shopping account – ebay or local store), do you know every third party your account is shared with for every app and account you hold? No I didn’t think so.

    • 0

      Hairy, you have no idea do you?

      No they can’t trace the offender, this App DOES NOT not your location, it only knows when you have been near someone with the virus and who also has the App.

  10. 0

    I will not be downloading this app. my $49 phone does not allow me to download apps and it does not run Bluetooth. If I could download it I would be put off by the fact that Amazon is handling the data. I trust Huawei more than I trust Amazon (or Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Tinder or any other ‘social media’) and my trust level in Huawei is very low. In any case I carry enough tracing apparatus already, I do not need any more.

    • 0

      And another thing, I hope the government does not make the source code public, why make it too easy for the hackers to get their hands on it. To a hacker even phone numbers, names and age group may be sellable data, unless they decide to hack in just because they can.

    • 0

      Hi Eddy, just read this , according to the Age:

      Mr Hunt pledged that the app’s source code, which the government initially said would be released in full but later said would only partially be released due to security concerns, would be made public within two weeks.

      Former Labor frontbencher Ed Husic called on the government to release the source code as soon as possible, saying he would reserve his right to delete the app if yet-to-be-seen legislation, to be put to Parliament in mid-May, was insufficient.

      “The government should have released both the app and the legislation simultaneously,” Mr Husic said. “I note it still hasn’t released the source code despite being told it should.”

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