Australia’s Bluetooth-powered coronavirus tracing app, COVIDSafe, has just been released across the country for Android and IOS devices and has already been downloaded by more than one million people.
The smartphone app asks people to register their name, age range, phone number, and postcode, and create a unique identifier which is then shared with other users if they come into contact with each other.
If a user tests positive for COVID-19, they also have the option to notify health authorities, who in turn contact those who have been within 1.5 metres of the infected person for 15 minutes or more.
COVIDSafe uses the same source code as South Korea’s TracerTogether app, which proved hugely successful at tracking the virus and slowing the spread in the country.
The country’s health minister, Greg Hunt, posted on Twitter: “As at 10:30 PM, 1 million Australians have now downloaded and registered for the #CovidSafeapp – please join us and help protect ourselves, our families, each other but above all else our nurses and doctors.”
A Privacy Impact Assessment released by the Australian government says that, to remain transparent with the public, the source code for the app should be released, and that the operation of the app will be reviewed regularly, “including reviewing the effectiveness of privacy controls”.
More than 100 organisations, including Amnesty International, and the World Wide Web Foundation, recently made a joint statement raising concerns about the use of surveillance to track and monitor populations during COVID-19, saying that it: “could lead to a surge in discrimination and disproportionately affect minority groups.”
To ease data privacy concerns, the app creators say that only “minimal information” is collected from a user and that none of that information is accessible without their consent. The data is also deleted automatically after 21 days, or if the app is uninstalled.
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The Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) out of Switzerland has released a GDPR compliant, European cross border contact tracing app that will also inform users if they have been close to a person carrying COVID-19 to help slow the spread of the virus.
In a notice, the PEPP-PT group said: “Experience in some Asian countries has shown that widespread testing, combined with isolation of confirmed cases and quarantine of their contacts, is an important part of a successful control strategy.
“The current bottlenecks in testing capacity are likely to be eliminated in the coming weeks. The challenge then will be to isolate confirmed cases and their contacts in a way that is compatible with our shared understanding of privacy in European democracies.”
For contact tracing through this method to work, there needs to be a large uptake in users. The Australian Government hopes to gain around 40% of the country’s population – 10 million people.