COVIDSafe: Everything you need to know about the government app

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COVIDSafe is the new contact tracing app launched by the Australian government, with the intention of tracking COVID-19 by person, to stop it jumping and becoming viral. It’s a step in the right direction for limiting social distancing measures and a great idea if you’re worried about contracting the virus.

We’re here to answer your questions about the app, and also provide you with some necessary tips about staying informed online as misinformation spreads.

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What is COVIDSafe?

COVIDSafe is the app launched by the Australian Government to track your distancing around people who have COVID-19, or have come into contact with people positive with the virus. It uses Bluetooth technology to track everybody around you who also uses the app, so doctors can monitor and trace the spread of the virus and keep Aussies safe.

If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, you’re required to provide the details of all the people you’ve been around recently, so health authorities can let them know and keep the disease contained as much as possible. If you’re out in public, this is a powerful tool to keep everyone you come into contact with aware of any virus spread.

How does COVIDSafe work?

The app uses Bluetooth technology to record everybody you encounter who also has the app downloaded on their phone. In the event that you become infected with COVID-19, the app acts as an alert service to inform the people you have come into contact with that they should take precautionary measures to stop the virus spreading any further.

The app needs your phone to be switched on with Bluetooth enabled. When coming into contact with other people who have COVIDSafe installed, the apps will communicate with each other. The person who tests positive to the virus in your vicinity will not be named.

When you sign up, you’ll be prompted to provide your name, mobile phone number, age range and postcode. You’ll then need to verify your use of the app with a text message verification code.

Using the COVIDSafe app

The app will record time, date, distance and duration of exposure to somebody with the virus, along with phone numbers. The information is encrypted and stored on your phone, as well as in a secure storage system, and is deleted every 21 days. Users cannot access this data on their phone to protect the privacy of people they come into contact with.

Select health officials can access this information, who can then make the choice to call people to let them know they may have contracted the virus.

Is COVIDSafe bad for privacy?

COVIDSafe has been subject to scrutiny by privacy experts, who see personal data concerns if the app is hacked. One only needs to remember the concerns around My Health Record and the 2016 census to be unsure about giving a government app your personal information. The government is yet to release the source code for independent bodies to look at the app, so we can’t really know for sure if concerns about COVIDSafe’s use of data are valid until then.

However, the assurance that data is deleted every 21 days, and only viewable by health professionals, is reassuring. The government has said that police can’t access the data, nor can the government itself, only relevant health authorities.

How can I download COVIDSafe?

If you’re using the app on iPhone, you’ll need to have the app running for it to work: tapping it and letting it work should do the trick. Otherwise it won’t record any information. If you’re on Android, you can have the app running in the background and working away. You can download the apps from the App Store or the Google Play store.

The government says once the pandemic is over, users will be prompted to delete the app. Data will also be deleted from the secure storage system. The app shouldn’t use any more than 1MB of phone data a day.

How can I find coronavirus news and facts?

The best resource for anything to do with COVID-19 within Australia is the Federal Government. Health.gov manages the virus outbreak as a health emergency and updates all its COVID-19 pages daily with the newest information, including case numbers and anything major.

On these pages, you’ll find the numbers of cases, deaths and graphs detailing the health emergency within the country. You can access this information here. If you’d like to know more about COVIDSafe, you can access all that here.

Beyond this, news organisations now announce on Facebook and Twitter when they’re going live with a broadcast. During the pandemic, these broadcasts have mostly been about health updates, specifically from State Premiers and the Prime Minister. While social media has been great to get information out about the pandemic, there’s also tonnes of misinformation floating around, like the false claim that 5G is causing coronavirus.

How can I avoid fake news?

Take everything with a grain of salt. Make sure you’ve got your preferred news pages on “following” so you always get the right information. This way, whenever there’s an update on the coronavirus, you’ll be alerted straight away, and the news will appear in your feed. You’ll also be notified when live streams start through these pages.

Using COVIDSafe in public

Verifying your information

You should also know how to validate the news sources that you see on social media. On Twitter, a blue tick will accompany the names of Twitter news pages that have been verified. This means they are the official Twitter page of that news organisation. On Facebook, clicking on the page’s name will take you to the page, where a blue tick will be beside the name. Facebook also has a “Page transparency” widget that will show you the information on the page if you click it, including who is the confirmed operator of the page (for example, “ABC News” is owned and operated by the “Australian Broadcasting Corporation”).

If the news is particularly new and breaking, Facebook also sports a red “BREAKING” tag, offered to news organisations to use for really pressing stories. It’s safe to say any page using this breaking tag has reliable information to offer.

How can I stay informed?

Checking the latest news is the best way to stay informed, but most importantly you should keep an eye on the official health information coming straight from the government. This is the best way to stay in the loop about social distancing measures, restrictions and cases in Australia.

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