Image of lady wearing a medical mask using her mobile device on a couch.

The COVIDSafe app was launched on Sunday, April 26, 2020, with its main purpose being to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Government is confident it will help to find and contain outbreaks in a quicker timeframe, thereby allowing the easement of restrictions whilst still keeping people safe.

As stated on the Department of Health website, this new app is voluntary. By downloading the app you are doing your part to protect yourself, your family and friends and saving the lives of other Australians. The technology of this app will assist in finding people who others may not have been able to recall they’d been around or even know, such as in a supermarket.

To be successful, the app needs to be downloaded and carried on just under half the population’s phones. This equates to 40% of Australians or approximately 10 million people.

A feature on the app is COVIDSafe app FAQs which contains detailed questions and answers people may have about this app.

A pseudonym can be used when registering onto the app. 

Information about the COVIDSafe app is provided in the following sections:

 

The purpose of the COVIDSafe app

As Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy states, “It is only for one purpose, to help contact tracing. If someone becomes positive, that is all it is for and all that it will be used for.”

  • Close contacts of COVID-19 cases can be located
  • People who may have been exposed to COVID-19 can be quickly contacted by state and territory officials
  • The manual process currently used in finding people who have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 is sped up. This, in turn, means a person at risk is contacted more quickly and thereby reduces the chances of the virus being passed on to family, friends or someone in the community.
  • It is only if someone tests positive that the state and territory officials can access information on the app. The owner of the phone must “agree to the information on their phone being uploaded”.
  • The app information can only be used by health officials to assist in alerting people who may need to get tested or be quarantined.

The following YouTube clip may assist to give a clearer understanding of how the COVIDSafe app, also called the COVID-19 Tracing App, will work.

Downloading the COVIDSafe app 

Both Android and Apple mobiles with an Australian number and Bluetooth are able to install the COVIDSafe app

To begin the download, a user needs to type COVIDSafe into either the Google Play Store on Android or Apple App store on the iPhone and follow the prompts.

Image of Android Play COVIDSafe App inside the google play store.

Disclaimer: This is a screenshot of the app sourced from the Google Play Store.

How the COVIDSafe app works

A person’s name, mobile number, postcode and age range are required when downloading and signing up to the app. As part of the sign-up process, an SMS text message will also be sent to the user with a code that needs to be entered into the app. This step is to confirm that a valid mobile number was used to sign up.

Once the sign-up process is completed, the system then creates an encrypted reference code unique to the user and other devices that have the COVIDSafe app installed and Bluetooth enabled will be recognised by the device.

“When the app recognises another user, it notes the date, time, distance and duration of the contact and the other user’s reference code. The COVIDSafe app does not collect your location.” In some media, this recognition is described as a ‘ping’ or ‘digital handshake’ when users come within 1.5 metres of each other.

To be most effective, a user needs to check that the app is operating and go about their day as normal. They will receive a daily notification to alert them that the app is running properly.

The information stored in people’s mobiles is encrypted with the encrypted identifier stored securely on their phone. It is so secure that not even the owner of the phone can obtain it. After 21 days the contact information is deleted. The COVID-19 incubation period and the time taken for testing are factors in this particular time period being set.

Testing positive for COVID-19

With the alert of a positive diagnosis, health officials will begin an investigation by asking the person or their parent or guardian who have they have been in contact with. With the COVIDSafe app and permission given, the encrypted contact information will be uploaded to a highly secure information storage system for analysis.

State and territory health officials will then:

  • use the contacts captured by the app to support their usual contact tracing
  • call people to let them or their parent/guardian know they may have been exposed
  • offer advice on next steps, including:
    • what to look out for
    • when, how and where to get tested
    • what to do to protect friends and family from exposure

Health officials will not name the person who was infected.

When the pandemic is over

At a time when it is deemed safe and the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, people will be prompted to delete the app off their phone. In doing so all app information will be deleted as will the information in the information storage system.

Deleting the app

The app can also be deleted at any time by the user, even before the prompt when the pandemic has ended. This will delete all COVIDSafe app information from your phone. The information in the secure information storage system will not be deleted immediately. It will be destroyed at the end of the pandemic. However, if you would like your information deleted from the storage system sooner, you can complete the request data deletion form.

Privacy

Your privacy and information are strictly protected.

Details on how personal information is handled when collected in the app can be found here.

Additional information regarding privacy is available on the Department of Health website. This includes the Privacy Impact Assessment Report and the government’s Agency Response. To protect people’s privacy and restrict access to information from the app there is also the Determination under the Biosecurity Act

Still not sure whether to download the COVIDSafe app 

For various reasons people can be anxious about new technology and more so if it is asking them to offer personal information as the COVIDSafe app is doing. To garner a greater understanding of the app and to make an informed decision on whether or not to download it, this article from SBS The Feed Not sure whether to install the COVIDSafe app?  may help. 

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