Monday, 30 November 2020 10:28

Govt says COVIDSafe app being updated as restrictions ease Featured

Govt says COVIDSafe app being updated as restrictions ease Image by leo2014 from Pixabay

Undeterred by the failure of its COVIDSafe app, the Morrison Government has announced that it will update the software in what it claims is "a world-leading technology development".

A statement from Health Minister Greg Hunt and Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said there would also be a new government advertising campaign to remind Australians "that as we head into Christmas and restrictions are easing, people should maintain COVID-safe behaviours".

The app, which was initially released for download on 27 April, detected only 17 cases. With about $70 million of taxpayers' money spent on its development, that worked out to approximately $4.12 million for each detection.

Additionally, as iTWire reported, six intelligence agencies — the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the Australian Signals Directorate. the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation, the Defence Intelligence Organisation and the Office of National Intelligence — were found to have "incidentally" collected data from the app.

The Boston Consulting Group was one organisation to benefit from the app. As InnovationAus reported, by 21 July BCG had been paid more than a million Australian dollars.

Another beneficiary was the American cloud provider, Amazon Web Services, which took home about three-quarters of a million.

The ministers' statement said the update would mean incorporation of a new Bluetooth protocol known as Herald that would "offer unparalleled app-level Bluetooth performance and contribute to better identification of potential close contacts".

They said the Digital Transformation Agency had been working with software behemoths Apple and Google to build the new protocol into the app. The DTA had also worked with the Australian Cyber Security Centre to ensure the updated app conformed to security requirements.

"The government is reinforcing the message not to be complacent in regards to the risks of spreading COVID-19 and how to stay safe, including having the app on your phone,’ said Hunt.

"The latest advertising campaign, which begins this week, is an important reminder that as we head into Christmas and restrictions are easing, people should maintain COVID-safe behaviours."

Said Robert: "Australia’s technology capability and contact tracing systems are world-leading and we will be the first country in the world to adopt the Herald Bluetooth protocol, which has been shown to significantly improve our capability through the COVIDSafe App.

"We are continuing to welcome the input and feedback of the tech community and we are making the code available ahead of the release being available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. We are encouraging everyone interested to review the code, conduct their own testing and provide their feedback.

"We are also making this code available to other countries so they can benefit from Australia’s world-first technology implementation to help improve their digital response to managing COVID-19.

"Over 7.1 million Australians have downloaded and registered the COVIDSafe App and with states and territories opening up, now is a timely reminder to download or update the app to assist in keeping you and your family safe."

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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