It’s Trace Time! The COVIDSafe App is open for business – Part II
By Cameron Abbott, Warwick Andersen, Rob Pulham and Michelle Aggromito
In Part I of this blog, we briefly touched on some of the safeguards that the Commonwealth Government has indicated that they will implement to address privacy concerns. Those proposed new safeguards are intended to satisfy many of the privacy concerns. However, there are additional safeguards that have been implemented in connection with the functionality of the App, which we focus on in Part II here.
Primarily, the App’s functionality does not use location based information. Rather, the App uses what is called a “Bluetooth digital handshake” which tracks the Bluetooth connections between users’ phones. This way it can identify who you were near for a certain length of time (if they also have the app installed and running), but it cannot tell where you both were. Acting health department secretary, Caroline Edwards, indicated in a recent senate inquiry that the App will not be collecting geolocational data and only State and Territory public health officials will have access to the data collected. Additionally, the data will be encrypted at all times, except for when it is accessed by those public health officials, when it can then be used only for the sole purpose of tracing COVID-19.
For the App to be successful, experts have indicated that there will need to be at least 40% take-up throughout the general population. The issue for the Government is to educate people on the privacy safeguards. This has been done well so far, but getting to 40% is a large hurdle that not even a far more cooperative society in Singapore managed to reach. Further, the App will need to be open and running in the background, with push notifications and Bluetooth enabled for it to work.
The number of downloads over the next few weeks will be a crucial aspect to establishing whether the App will be successful.