How safe is COVIDSafe?
With the rapid spread of COVID-19, the impetus for slowing the outbreak or ‘flattening the curve’ has been placed heavily on us as global communities and citizens. Our Federal Government is strongly urging us to stay home and to consider the repercussions of ignoring new social distancing laws. Yet, despite our governments, the World Health Organisation, and leading science and medical professionals supporting this message, there are those of us who still choose to ignore it. In response to the large number of individuals still throwing 8-year-old birthday parties and meeting a new Tinder date every week despite the indisputable evidence that that is a terrible idea, Australia has now turned to technology to try and regain control.
Using technology to flatten the curve.
The Federal Government has just this past weekend rolled out a new app called COVIDSafe, modelled around the same concept as TraceTogether, a tracking app that has already been implemented to help flatten the curve in Singapore. The purpose of the app is to trace those who have spent more than 15 minutes in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The app, which uses Bluetooth technology, will be able to record your contact with individuals even if you don’t know them. While this app promises to help slow the spread of the virus, it also raises some very valid questions about privacy and the line between safety and surveillance.
Does being safe mean giving up our privacy?
It’s not the first time a government has used apps to try track and trace the comings and goings of civilians. Our phones are virtually glued to our hands and we are becoming more and more reliant on them in our everyday lives. Almost all aspects of our lives have become tangled up in technology, which is where the line starts to become blurred. When it comes to tracking apps put in place in countries such as China and South Korea, the ethical intentions and morality of such technology comes into question. When our phones are able to record our conversations, our searches, our locations, our transactions, and a plethora of other personal data, how much of this should we allow to be monitored or even released as public information?
We still have a choice!
Luckily, Australia seems to be aware of the public concern in regards to such surveillance measures and the government maintains that the privacy of Australians will remain protected. This COVIDSafe app will operate on a strictly opt-in basis and the data collected will be used in the interest of public health and safety. Unfortunately, to have any sort of effect, the app will require at least 40% of Australians to sign up and commit to its usage. While the fear regarding these apps is understandable given their track record in other countries, we must remember that we are being given a choice. A voluntary commitment to being open about our movements could help save the lives of many at-risk individuals who are being exposed without even knowing it. Whether you opt-in or not, the most important thing to remember is that you were given the power to choose.
As of this this afternoon (April 27, 2020) I can see the COVIDSafe App is the #1 downloaded App in Australia on the App store.