COVID-19 contact tracing apps are arriving in earnest, and it’s clear that privacy is as much of an issue as the effectiveness of the apps. Australia has launched its tracing app, COVIDSafe, despite criticisms of its approach to privacy. The voluntary software is based on Singapore’s TraceTogether and uses a mix of Bluetooth and stored contact data on both the app and servers to let people know if they’ve been in close contact people who’ve tested positive for COVID-19. The Australian government has promised that its app doesn’t collect locations and only shares data with health officials after an infected person offers consent, but there are concerns it might still share more than users are comfortable with.
The storage of contact data (including names, phone numbers and postcodes) beyond a device makes it theoretically possible to abuse that info, or for an intruder to access it. There’s also the question of how Australia will enforce its data protections. A legislative directive to enshrine those limitations is only due to be proposed in May. The government has also vowed to delete information on its end when the pandemic is over, but that’s not completely reassuring when there isn’t a clear end in sight.