Government slams COVID app hoax

Health authorities have slammed a hoax message claiming to come from the government’s new COVIDSafe app.

Authorities say that the message, which is being circulated online, claims to detect when a user has moved an unwarranted distance from their nominated location. It appears to have been sent by the app, but it isn’t.

The message reads: “The COVIDsafe app has detected you are now +20km from your nominated home address.

“Please register your reason for travel by calling 1300 1MY GOV within 15 minutes of receiving this SMS.”

More than 2.5 million Australians have downloaded the COVIDSafe app since it became available on Sunday. It was downloaded by more than a million people within five hours of being launched on Sunday evening.

A Department of Health spokesperson confirmed to that the message was a hoax.

“It is abhorrent that scammers would attempt to use the COVIDSafe app, a public health tool, to try to catch out Australians,” the spokesperson said.

“The COVIDSafe App does not have any geolocation capability; it does not track your location, only the proximity of your phone to other people’s phones that have downloaded the app, and cannot monitor a person’s location at any time.

“The app does not register a person’s home address and it does not share or send any information with anyone, until authorised by the user, if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and then only to state and territory health officials involved in contact tracing.”

COVIDSafe is designed to help health officials identify people who have come into contact with somebody infected with the disease through a voluntary sign-up process. It is downloaded to a mobile phone. The app uses bluetooth short-range wireless communication technology to anonymously record users who are within 1.5 metres of each other for about 15 minutes.

Responding to privacy concerns, chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said the commonwealth would never have access to the data collected.

“We have locked this down so completely, so thoroughly with the biosecurity rule, with legislation that is coming – the only people who can access the data are the state and territory health officials,” he said.

“We have a compact with the Australian public – this app will only ever be used by public health officials in the purposes of contact tracing.”

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

Health minister Greg Hunt said that was coming within two weeks.

Have you downloaded the app? Will you? Did you receive the hoax message? Does that concern you?

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Written by Janelle Ward


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