Australia on Sunday launched COVIDSafe, a contact-tracing mobile app part of the country's work to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The app could help the Australian government find and contain outbreaks quickly so it could ease restrictions while still keeping Australians safe.
The app will quickly alert people who may be at risk of having contact with the COVID-19 (coronavirus). It will allow health officials to tell you if you have come into close contact with someone who is diagnosed with the virus. If you become infected with coronavirus, the app will also assist health officials to notify people you have been in close contact with so they can self-quarantine and get tested.
The app operates on a person’s phone as they go about their day. It securely logs the encrypted reference codes of devices of other people who are using the app who have been in close proximity to you. To be effective, users should have the app running in the background of their phone whenever they are coming into contact with people.
The user registers to use the app by entering a name, phone number and postcode, and selecting their age range. On the basis of this information, an encrypted reference code is generated for the app on that phone. That code is changed every 2 hours to make it even more secure.
The app uses Bluetooth to look for other devices that have the app installed. It takes a note when that occurs, securely logging the other users’ encrypted reference code. The date and time, distance and duration of the contact are generated on the user’s phone and also recorded. The location is not recorded.
This information is encrypted and stored on the phone.
The app uses a rolling 21 day window to allow for the maximum 14 day incubation period, and the time taken to confirm a positive test result. The rolling 21 day window allows the app to continuously note only those user contacts that occur during the coronavirus incubation window. Contacts that occurred outside of the 21 day window are automatically deleted from the user’s phone.
The close contact information can only be accessed by relevant health officials if there has been a positive case to help alert those who may need to be tested.
The Australian government says that the app will never track your location.
Downloading the app is voluntary. You can delete the app from your phone at any time. At the end of the Australian pandemic, users will be prompted to delete the app from their phone. This will delete all app information on a person’s phone. The information contained on the highly secure information storage system will also be destroyed at the end of the pandemic, according to the Australian authorities.
“We need the COVIDSafe app as part of the plan to save lives and save livelihoods,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in the statement. “The more people who download this important public health app, the safer they and their family will be, the safer their community will be and the sooner we can safely lift restrictions and get back to business and do the things we love.”
“Unless and until a person is diagnosed with Covid-19, no contact information collected in the app is disclosed or able to be accessed,” Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert said in the statement.“Once the person agrees and uploads the data, only the relevant state or territory public health officials will have access to information.”