How did the Covidsafe app go from being vital to almost irrelevant?

Guardian Technology 23 May 2020 08:00
Only one person has been reported to have been identified using data from the Covidsafe contact tracing app in the month since its launch. Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

It was sold as the key to unlocking restrictions – like sunscreen to protect Australians from Covid-19 – but as the country begins to open up, the role of the Covidsafe app in the recovery seems to have dropped to marginal at best.

“This is an important protection for a Covid-safe Australia,” the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said in late April. “I would liken it to the fact that if you want to go outside when the sun is shining, you have got to put sunscreen on.”

“This is the same thing … If you want to return to a more liberated economy and society, it is important that we get increased numbers of downloads when it comes to the Covidsafe app … This is the ticket to ensuring that we can have eased restrictions.”

The health minister, Greg Hunt, tweeted that it was the key to being allowed to go back to watching football.

Yet nearly a month since launch, the contact tracing app has barely been used – just one person has been reported to have been identified using data from it.

It set a target of 40% of the Australian population using the app for it to be effective. While close to six million Australians now have the app, the number of new downloads has declined in the past few weeks.

“People’s perception of risk is definitely dropping,” he said.

Under the Apple and Google version, the data being uploaded is just a set of keys that user has had for the past 21 days. Other users’ phones play a digital game of bingo, checking in with the national server to see if they have a match for a contact in the past 21 days.

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