Tag: COVIDsafe

COVID-19 tracing apps proving to be a tricky business around the world


Developing a successful COVID-19 app has been seen as a kind of Holy Grail since the pandemic exploded around the world in March. Since then, many countries have developed their own apps in the hope that they can master digital contact tracing and get outbreaks under control quicker and more effectively than any team of human contact tracers ever could.

However, at the start of 2020, the concept of a mobile app aimed at containing a pandemic was not tried and tested. Many questions remain unanswered about the technology, effectiveness, functionality and arguably most importantly, the ethics of such apps.

What is already clear is that it’s not an easy business. Germany’s Corona-Warn-App had seemed to be making decent headway. As of July 24, the app had been downloaded 16.2 million times in Germany according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) — accounting for an impressive 20% of the population.

Yet that was the same day that tabloid newspaper Bild revealed that for five weeks, the app had not been working properly for potentially millions of users. Some Android operating systems had blocked the app from running in the background to save power, meaning its key function — to send a user an alert if they met someone who had tested positive for the virus — may not have worked.

The German Health Ministry says the issue has now been fixed but it is far from the only example of a COVID-19 app that has had problems.

Measuring success

It’s not yet clear how to measure success in the COVID-19 app business and it may never be. While number of downloads relative to a population size is obviously a key metric, it becomes less so if the app has functionality issues or is seen to be unreliable.

Even with an app that works well and which sees a major take-up rate within a population, many contact tracing experts say it is not easy to establish the precise role an app will play in containing rates of infection.

For example, apps that don’t store data at a centralized location may work very well, but there is no central authority with the data to say exactly how many people were successfully warned about the risk of infection.

Big numbers

In terms of pure volume of downloads, India’s Aarogya Setu app is a frontrunner. In April, it was in the top 10 most downloaded apps in the world with only tech behemoths like Zoom, TikTok, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger ahead of it.

According to data from Sensor Tower, a mobile app consultancy, Aarogya Setu had more than 127 million downloads by mid-July. It had reached the 100-million mark within 40 days of being made available.

But India has a population of over 1.3 billion. With less than 10% take-up, the chances of two people coming into contact with each other who have both downloaded the app is around 1%.

It has also faced plenty of criticism. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review is publishing a “COVID Tracing Tracker” to review various COVID-19 apps around the world. It rates apps on five key metrics, allocating a star for each one. Aarogya Setu scored just two stars, with the reviewers critical of the app for not being voluntary for millions of users, for not limiting the use of the data it collects and for the fact that it collects more data than it needs.

Yet compared with China and United States, either side of India at the top of the world population list, it hasn’t done badly. China’s health code system, carried on the platforms Alipay and WeChat, has not been at all transparent in terms of how its app works and how the data it stores is used.

In the US, the Exposure Notification API created jointly by Apple and Google is already in use by various countries around the world. In the US it can be developed into state-specific apps by individual health authorities in various states. There is no single national app. Yet so far, only a handful of states have committed to developing an app of their own using the Apple-Google technology.

There are early signs that countries with smaller populations are finding it easier to get collective buy-in for their apps. Iceland, with a population of less than 400,000, saw more than 40% of its people download its COVID-19 app Rakning C-19 within a month of its launch.

Ireland, with 5 million, has also shown signs of early success. Its Covid Tracker app had been downloaded by 1.3 million within eight days of its launch in early July. That made it the fastest downloaded app per capita in Europe. Nearform, the company behind it, is now in talks with the Pennsylvania state health department, with other US states reportedly interested.

Bad apps and no apps

While countries all over the world have developed apps, particularly in Europe, not every nation that has been severely hit by the pandemic has managed to get an app launched.

The UK government has been heavily criticized for its response to the coronavirus crisis. It has recorded more than 45,000 deaths, one of the highest rates in the world in both absolute and per capita terms. It has also struggled with its app and faced major criticism as a result.

The UK has been planning to develop an NHS COVID-19 app since March. Still the country has not managed to launch one. Its original plan was ditched in June in favor of using the Apple-Google system instead of its own version, which had run into technical difficulties. Yet at the time of writing, it is not known when or if a UK app will be launched.

Source- dw.com

WHO releases “interim guidance” for stakeholders for the “ethical and appropriate use of digital proximity tracking technologies for COVID-19”


From SAT News Desk, Melbourne

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released an ‘Interim guidance’ (28 May 2020), ‘Ethical considerations to guide the use of digital proximity tracking technologies for COVID-19 contact tracing’ dealing with tracking technologies used in tracing Apps to identify COVID-19 infected patients in many countries including Australia (COVIDSafe) and India (Aarogya Setu). Like many others in the world, the WHO feels, “… these technologies raise ethical and privacy concerns.” This document is exhaustive and deals with issues of technology, human rights, commercial usage of data, effectiveness, proximity, and the need for the legislation among others.
We reproduce below the whole ‘interim guidance’ as it is under the Creative Commons Licence. CLICK on the following link and access/download the original WHO document:


Australia’s COVIDSafe app becomes fully functional, Law Council bats for a robust legislative framework & transparency

Image: Australia Govt.

By SAT News Desk

MELBOURNE, 13 May 2020: The COVIDSafe tracing app has become fully functional here today. This was disclosed by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Mr. Paul Kelly at a media update today. He said about 5.6 million people had downloaded the app and others who have not are encouraged to download the optional app.

He disclosed all states have signed up and trained to use the app as to what information they get and how it can be used.

Last weekend the government released the COVIDSafe app source code. In a statement, the Law Council said the code is consistent with its core regulatory design principles published on 24 April.

These principles included the release of both the source code and the privacy impact assessment as necessary for the operation of the app to be scrutinized by industry professionals, researchers, academics and community members so that individuals are in the strongest possible position to provide informed consent to the installation and ongoing operation of the app, says Law Council President, Pauline Wright, in a statement.

The Law Council will closely monitor the views of experts regarding the details of the source code and any actual or potential privacy and transparency impacts.

The Law Council also understands that a Bill will be introduced to the Parliament on 12 May to place the regulatory framework for the app on a legislative footing and replace the current Determination made under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth).

While the Exposure Draft Bill contained several welcome improvements to the Biosecurity Determination, the Law Council remains concerned that a number of matters remain outstanding.

These concerns focus on ensuring that comprehensive oversight provisions are provided to the Privacy Commissioner, making the allowance for the prohibitions on the use and disclosure of COVIDSafe app data to have application after the automatic repeal, and applying a gradation to the maximum penalties.

The Law Council has also called on the Australian Government to expedite an executive agreement with the United States Government under the US CLOUD Act to minimize the risk that any data obtained will be able to be accessed by US authorities under US legislation.

The statement goes on to say, ” While the Law Council understands the need for the urgent passage of the legislation, we also consider it important that the legislation is subject to the normal processes of parliamentary scrutiny including committee review, and ongoing consideration once implemented. Given that the app is likely to be operational for a sustained period, it is important that there is a strong basis for continued public trust and confidence in its operation.

Both a robust legislative framework and transparency in the app’s technical specifications are critical to the important national task ahead.”

Australia launches tracing app (COVIDsafe) amidst privacy concerns


By SAT News Desk

MELBOURNE, 26 April 2020: The Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt today launched the new voluntary coronavirus app, COVIDSafe.

The latest research from the Australia Institute (26 April posted) shows that 45% of Australians say they will download and use the Government’s COVID-19 mobile app, while 28% say they will not use it and 27% unsure.

The Australia Institute surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,011 Australians about whether they would use the government’s COVID-19 mobile app on 23-24 April 2020.

COIVD app polling

“The app is an important public health initiative that will help keep you, your family, and your community safe from further spread of coronavirus through early notification of possible exposure,” a media release says.

“Australians are doing an extraordinary job to flatten the curve and contain the spread of the coronavirus, but we cannot be complacent,” says Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“The Chief Medical Officer’s advice is we need the COVIDSafe app as part of the plan to save lives and save livelihoods. The more people who download this important public health app, the safer they and their family will be, the safer their community will be, and the sooner we can safely lift restrictions and get back to business and do the things we love.”

The health initiative uses technology to automate and improve what state and territory health officials already do manually. COVIDSafe will speed up the process of identifying people who have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with coronavirus, quickly stopping further spread of the virus in the community.

Addressing a nationally televised media conference, Minister for Health, Greg Hunt thanked Australians for their actions during the pandemic, and said the app is part of the three key requirements for easing restrictions: Test, Trace, and Respond.

“We thank Australians for their help in adhering to the difficult but life-saving social distancing measures,” Minister Hunt said.

“We are now calling on all Australians to download the COVIDSafe app to help protect you, your family and your community from further spread of COVID-19. This will be necessary if we are to start easing some of the difficult social distancing restrictions we have had to put in place” Minister Hunt said.

“It will be one of the critical tools we will use to help protect the health of the community by quickly alerting people who may be at risk of having contact with COVID-19. If you’d been exposed, you’d want to know, wouldn’t you?”

The media release says, “The app has received strong support from states and territories and the health sector, which recognizes it is a valuable tool that will enhance the ability to respond rapidly to local outbreaks, and the confidence to know the virus is not silently spreading throughout communities.

A new determination issued by the Minister for Health under the Biosecurity Act will ensure the information provided voluntarily through the App will only be accessible for use by authorized state and territory health officials. Any other access or use will be a criminal offense.”

Welcoming the announcement, Australian Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy said COVIDSafe is set to be a major tool in streamlining the process of identifying contacts after a person tests positive for coronavirus.
“Finding out quickly means you can quarantine yourself or be treated much faster, protecting your family and friends from possible infection, and slowing the spread of the virus,” Professor Murphy said.

“Without this technology, health officials have to rely on people being able to remember who they have been around, and being able to provide contact details for those people.”

“It is important to note that only state and territory health officials will be able to use the information.”

“COVIDSafe only keeps contact information for 21 days. This covers the maximum incubation period for the virus and the time it takes for someone to be tested for COVID-19,” Professor Murphy said.

“Once the coronavirus pandemic is over, and Australia no longer needs the app, the app and the information on it will be deleted permanently. No virus, no app,” Minister Hunt said.

“While there is a base level of support for the proposed Government COVID-19 mobile app, the Government will need to ensure user privacy is guaranteed in legislation,” said Ben Oquist, Executive Director of the Australia Institute.

“With half the population yet to be fully convinced, the Government will need to ensure strong privacy guarantees are legislated to keep the community on the side and assuage any privacy concerns.”

Law Council of Australia President, Ms. Pauline Wright says, ” … a potential legal ambiguity exists around whether other laws authorizing the issuing of law enforcement and intelligence warrants could override the prohibition on access, as provided under the Determination, without an express provision included in the Determination stating that it prevails over all other laws.

Clarity should also extend to the operation of the exemptions under the Privacy Act 1988, for example, employee records covering an ‘act or practice directly related to a current or former employment relationship between the employer and the individual.

We call on the government to make a firm commitment to introduce legislation on the first sitting day in May that will replace the Determination.”

The App can be downloaded from the App stores.