Never have Australian’s experienced such a heavy push towards the download of an app as they have the CovidSAFE app, although these uncertain times have brought about many firsts. The CovidSAFE hit the app store on April 26, and since then we have watched politicians, celebrities, businesses and media urging the public to download it, or criticizing the app altogether. Despite the social commentary, there has been a significant uptake of the app with downloads shattering records, and still, the number climbs. If you haven’t taken the time to understand the app design and purpose for yourself, or what the proposed plan is for the future, let’s recap on what you might have missed.
The CovidSAFE app
App developers in all niches would describe the CovidSAFE app as simply a contact trace app that has been designed and powered by the Australian government. The idea behind the app is to identify where Covid-19 positive individuals have been when they had the virus, with others who have been in the same places able to receive communication through the app that they might have come in contact with the virus. Only health and state officials can access this location data, using it as a tool to identify who needs to be tested or quarantined.
As we have all seen countless times through graphics on the news, the way Covid-19 spreads at the rates we have seen is through community transmission and the CovidSAFE app is a line of defence to map and slow the spread. Rightfully so, there are many who are wary of a government-powered app that tracks their location, but app downloading has not been compulsory and many have been able to make the decision for themselves over whether to download or not.
How the app has been used
The CovidSAFE app has been downloaded over six million times, which means that approximately a quarter of the population has downloaded the app. It’s a far cry from the 40% they had hoped would download the app, but a notable effort nonetheless. And the effort did not go unrewarded, with a potential spread stopped through the use of CovidSAFE with all parties contacted and alerted in a critical time frame. As of mid-June 2020, Health officials have allegedly only accessed data from the CovidSAFE app ten times, which has proved to the public that they have respected the responsibility of having access to this private data. Data scientists have also stated that the CovidSAFE app is a complementary tool that augments existing contact tracing measures and other available resources to learn more about the spread and rate of growth.
Another benefit that the public cannot necessarily see is that the CovidSAFE app, despite how few times it has been accessed by Health officials, is allowing the Australian economy to continue and for restrictions to ease. With the knowledge that many have downloaded the app, government officials can lead with the confidence that they have a line of sight over where outbreaks can occur and who they should concern. When the pandemic is over, users can delete the app and the central storage system will be destroyed. If users choose to delete the app before the pandemic ends, they can request a deletion from the central storage system and their individual data will be removed.
It’s fair to say that we haven’t seen an initiative like this in our lifetime, and hopefully, we won’t have cause to ever see one again. However, it’s encouraging to see that we can weaponise our smartphones and our constant use of them, especially when such a large number of the population is compliant with the request to download and be part of this movement.