Why you should download COVIDSafe now

We're all in this together.

That's been the message throughout the fight against COVID-19 but now all of us have to lift our finger to help the war effort, far too many appear to be missing in action.

And yet that's all it takes - just the lifting of a finger. With two or three taps of your phone screen you can download the COVIDSafe tracing app in less time than it takes to spell out coronavirus. In doing so, you'll help reduce deaths and get us back on the path to economic recovery.

And yet while four million have - millions others haven't. Whether they're too selfish, too lazy or too ignorant to do a little research and realise their privacy is not at risk, they're compromising all of us by choosing not to be one of the 10 million needed to take up the contact-tracing app for it to be a success.

 

An iPhone device displays the COVIDSafe app released by the Australian government. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt
An iPhone device displays the COVIDSafe app released by the Australian government. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt

 

Are the objectors so self-regarding that they can't see that privacy - which is not even at stake - counts for nothing if you're dead?

Downloading the app is voluntary, yet nearly a week after it was released only two million people have made it a priority. Seriously, what can be more important right now than downloading a technological tool that might save your life or loved one?

 

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said, the app is our "ticket" out of lockdown and he likens it to wearing sunscreen outside. It's harmless for the user but hugely beneficial in our fight against the virus. Using Bluetooth, the app recognises other devices with the app installed and effectively makes a "digital handshake" that records the date and time, distance and duration of the contact. It's a protective device and it has one purpose: to quickly find and notify people who have been in contact with a person who has tested positive to COVID-19. It doesn't care if you're having an affair with your boss, you've overstayed your visa or you've been to Dan Murphy's three times in 24 hours. The data it collects is encrypted, only available to health officers and deleted after 21 days. Any stored data - for instance, that which someone consents to be being uploaded from their app when they test positive - will be destroyed once the pandemic is over.

And yet so many are suspicious and refusing to do the decent thing because of a delusional belief that their privacy may be compromised. Led by former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, who says he doesn't want to be tracked by the government, they're clearly willing to put warped self interest above others' lives.

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the app is our ‘ticket’ out of lockdown. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the app is our ‘ticket’ out of lockdown. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

 

These are doubtless the same people who willingly share photos on Facebook, order Uber Eats, set their Tinder profile to connect with potential dates within a 50km radius, use Google Maps to get from one place to another and store their credit card details for ease of use while online shopping. As one app developer has pointed out, Google and Facebook are far more powerful and intrusive than COVIDSafe.

Surely we should embrace this positive use of technology. With so many social media apps and websites blamed for bullying, harassment, trolling and peddling paedophilia, why wouldn't we harness the power of this app for collective good?

Australia's Information and Privacy Commissioner, Angeline Faulk, has publicly endorsed the app saying important safeguards have been put in place to ensure it protects our personal information, in line with the Biosecurity Act. This includes it being voluntary, having an agreed time frame for deletion and ensuring that data collected can only be used for contact tracing.

"The Privacy Impact Assessment has provided transparency and accountability for the use of personal information, and supports community confidence in the app," she said.

While the data will be encrypted and held by the federal government only state health authorities will be able to access it. Mr Morrison has said federal agencies including Centrelink and Home Affairs will have no access to the data, nor will the police or courts. In fact, it will be a criminal offence to use any of the information collected in any other way other than for contact tracing.

What's more, as Health Minister Greg Hunt has explained, the data only travels to public health officials if a person has a positive diagnosis and even then, the app user themselves has to push the information to the government.

If you haven't got on board because of concerns that the app doesn't run as effectively on iPhones, tech experts are on the case and say help is imminent to fix it.

Australia is the envy of the world in its suppression of the virus but it hasn't happened by magic. Governed by facts and led by experts, our federal and state leaders have worked their butts off, flattened the curve, devised income support and mortgage and rent relief, and developed a brilliant piece of technology that will help keep us safe. Anyone who doubts its efficacy should be forced to spend a day with those working round the clock using less-effective manual means to trace those who may have come in contact with someone carrying the virus.

To cite distrust of the government or threats to privacy as reasons not to download the app, is not only grossly self-important but a wilful act of self and collective sabotage.

Go on. Do Australia a favour and download the app now

Originally published as Shut up and download the virus app



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