The Australian COVID-19 App?

My people are mostly “no” but not for why you might think. You tell us why too!

My last post was entitled “Why?”, this post is about asking “What?” in relation to the Australian Governments COVID-19 COVIDSafe App (read about Singapore’s TraceTogether app). The central, consistent questions that we should all be asking until we get an honest answer are “What problem are we trying to solve?” and “What is the real reason that people should, if indeed, opt in?” 

Anyone with a modicum of tech experience will know that BlueTooth is not actually capable of doing some of what it is the Government purports. If that is the case, and they can actually do all of the things they outline with the App, then are they using some other form of technology and simply not telling us? Granted, it is not the technology that is the bad guy here. It is the questionable lack of specifications and requirements of the Australian Government who is bandying about the term “technology” to make them look less conspicuous as they try a catch-all solution to attempt to get the population to opt-in.  

So, first of all, most problems have multiple solutions and as often as not they’re not high-tech ones; so what were the original specifications and requirements. In the case of the app and its rationale, it is not going to solve the complex interrelationships between biology, medical issues, the structure of our society, and people’s behaviour. So, it would seem, we have started with a high-tech solution before fully defining the problem we want to solve.  

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At one end of the spectrum parts of the solution are missing from the app release and at the other end is the fact that the app might simply be the wrong solution. Take Singapore as an example, Their App (very similar, if not the same , to the one Australia is using) was released on March 20th and has since become ineffective as there was not enough uptake by Singaporean citizens to warrant its continuation….WHAT!!

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Second, we already know we are being tracked by Google, Facebook, and others. In CSIs course about privacy and security, I demonstrate the extent of tracking even when I turned on all my privacy settings. In that context, I’ve found that most people, once they become aware of the amount of tracking that’s occurring, become much more skeptical and discerning about what they download and use. Trust in apps generally declines with knowledge about how almost everything tracks and traces you.

For the Australian Government to now add their own track and trace to the mix is potentially going to generate less trust in them rather than more. There’s already a fairly large proportion of the Australian population that doesn’t trust the Government. I don’t think the app is going to help with the trust issues.

Third, the fact that the Australian Health Minister has not yet allowed the release of the source code has to raise some serious suspicions as to the real motivation behind the App. Another few “SO WHATs?”- What happens when this is all over? What happens to the millions of terabytes of data they allegedly have not stored?! What about the privacy and security implications? They are claiming that the data is anonymised. If it is, then how can they tell who we have been near and if I am infected?

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So there’s no way to estimate the degree to which privacy and security could be abused by that app’s ability to track and trace. Privacy is a fundamental human right. If the app can anonymise your data, it can just as easily de-anonymise your data. 

The Health Ministers website describes the COVIDApp. It explicitly tells you what happens to the information on your device but it does not explicitly say what happens to your data if you test positive. A video implies that COVIDSafe can tell you when you’ve come in contact with someone who has been exposed, but fails to describe how this relates to “anonymised” data, how you are flagged when you test positive, how the App uses that information more generally or what happens to that data later on if more and more people start using the App.

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So it would seem that trust is a big issue and that the other elements of the solution, if there are any, have not been fully considered, articulated, or communicated. It would seem from the quotes I’ve gathered that raised awareness of some of the other COVID rules and initiatives haven’t even been widely achieved or understood yet either.

In the end a) there won’t be enough adoption to make the app useful or b) it will become compulsory. Either way, this scenario ends badly for our so-called leaders.

Your Perspective

Here are a few, from your perspective, anonymised quotes from some of my people I’ve worked with:

  1. Extreme high-tech expert: “Well I for one will not be downloading it, we are adult’s and laws have been passed to ensure those that should be quarantined are, police and defence force personnel are enforcing these laws, the fact that the government is asking its people to voluntarily be tracked and traced like a criminal on parole wearing an ankle bracelet is borderline disgusting and at the end of the day there is no real way to ascertain how much access to your phones OS this app has, I have nothing to hide but I also will not fall into the zombie sheep mentality and install an app on my phone proffered by a government I didn’t trust before COVID-19 and I certainly do not trust now.”
  2. General Manager: “I wouldn’t download it because it will know my location at all times and people have been fined for posting pics on Facebook because the police thought they were current when in fact they were old [pictures]. [Also] just in case I do something they’ve deemed as not ‘essential’ [that I didn’t know about].”
  3. Technology Provider: “I’m from Germany and Germans are always concerned with privacy [Author’s note: So, reading between the lines that’s a “no”…]. Bluetooth is not technology that can do the proximity detecting described by the government and so its claims for tracing proximity are false. [Author’s note: Again reading between the lines, the app can’t do what it says it does based on the chosen technology and had they defined the problem before implementing a solution they might have used something else.]”
  4. Designer: Undecided:
  • Why I would: to help the government trace the movements of COVID should myself or anyone I came in contact with be infected. This would save a lot of investigation time and would eliminate the ambiguity of interview data (given that the majority of people are actually using the app).
  • Why I wouldn’t: once I have agreed to the terms, it worries me that I am giving my location (and other data that I may be unaware of) to the government. Will they be clear about exactly what data-points they will be tracking and how they will use it? Will the app company and the government be transparent here? And if other people are having similar concerns will there even be a point to using the app if only a low percentage of people use it?”
  1. Behaviouralist: “At the risk of being paranoid or believing that we are in the midst of a conspiracy theory there is no possible incentive that could convince me to download what essentially is a tracking device. The Federal Government has tried many times to implement various tracking devices under different guises including the Australia Card and the Digital Identity Card, both have failed. Perhaps this pandemic is the panacea for Governments to voluntarily force the plebiscite to finally tow the line! I can barely bring myself to opt into LinkedIn let alone a TraceTogether App and while I am at it, how long do you think it took some marketing genius to come up with a word that didn’t say tracking!!! “Tracing” are they actually f***ing serious.”
  2. Extraordinary Software Developer: “I would (have already) downloaded it because I’m happy to trade a small amount of privacy for a greater social good. Anyone with any sort of social media account or just a smartphone is almost certainly sharing far more private information than the Covid Save app does already.”
  3. Another Extraordinary Software Developer: “I didn’t even know there was a new govt COVID app released! The truth is I really don’t use my phone for much other than email + phone + 2fa + txt. So unlikely to install the app, but not for any ideological reasons per se.”
  4. Former APS3 Sergeant in the Australian Military: “I have served this f***ing country, put my life on the line many times, taken life, done unspeakable things in the name of Queen and Country to preserve these rights including freedom of movement.. who the fuck do they think they are to imprison me, kill my ability to make money, feed, clothe and pay my way in society… it really pisses me off and it’s lucky little Johnny Howard took all our guns. This is command and control exercise, the government is using the people’s right of freedom of movement against them, they bribing us “the people” with a classic donkey and carrot tactic, we the people, the voters and excessive tax payers are the donkeys and this bullshit app is the carrot, they are bribing us with our freedom of movement “install the app and the restrictions will be lifted” it’s un-Australian, and they can f*** off. [And on the Australian constitution: It’s not worth a pinch of shit with our disposable leaders, some not even elected, the concept of a constitution is a joke].”
  5. Foreigner: Interesting article. I didn’t know Australia was heading in that direction. I, for one, am uncomfortable with the breadth and depth of information we willingly put out there about ourselves by simply using today’s technology. You make some good points about Bluetooth capabilities vs what they hope to be able to do with this app. There are very legitimate concerns re: what will be done with that information and how truly effective it would or wouldn’t be in slowing the spread of Covid-19.

There you have it – more than 85% of a very, very, extremely un-scientific sample are sayings “no.”

So here’s the real kicker: What are we all supposed to do about it? Talk to me… Why? And What?

Well, Because “flattening the curve” is simply accepting that the same number of people are going to die every, single day. 

I don’t think the COVIDSafe App matters.