The CovidSafe App: Saving Lives vs Saving Privacy

The Australian government’s release of the CovidSafe App marks a historic step towards how the government ‘tracks’ its population. The app is designed to identify users that may have come within 1.5 kilometres of an infected person, to help stop the spread and increase the chances to promote testing and isolation. The government has stated that at least 40% of the population would need to download the app for it to be effective.

Due to the app’s nature, concerns have, unsurprisingly, been raised on what information the app will actually gather and how this information may be used.  

Information Collection for Marketing

First, let’s compare the app to our everyday use of social media, Gmail and overall Google browsing.  Is there any difference in the way these businesses and apps gather our information? And what can really be done once this information is gathered? Is it really as scary of a privacy breach as some suspect?  

We need to acknowledge and appreciate that our information is always being shared and the ads you see online are no coincidence. If you have a smartphone and use apps, you are most likely already sharing your location and demographics with these companies. Businesses like Google & Facebook use your browsing history, login information and interactions online to create a persona, categorising your information for advertisers to buy and market to. This is done a lot of the time without users consciously knowing 

But is this a bad thing? Fortunately, contrary to what a lot of sceptics would have you believe, advertisers are limited to what information they can get access to. As an agency, when creating ads, we are only given a small glimpse into our audiences, focusing on; age, gender, location, likes, online interactions including websites visited and device usage. This is then grouped into narrowed categories without specific details. There are no mention of names, contact details, and no information shared to help ‘track you down’. This gathering of information could be seen as far more ‘intrusive’ when compared to the CovidSafe app. 

What information does CovidSafe collect?

In contrast, CovidSafe only gathers your name, mobile number, postcode, and age range, all which you are voluntarily sharing at the time of creating a profile. The app then uses Bluetooth to recognise the times when you may have come in contact with an infected person, which is stored for 21 days. The government has also ensured that this information will be encrypted to inhibit hackers and have also made any use of the data that is not directing linked with COVID-19 tracing to be a criminal offence by law. This encryption and legislation provide a lot more safeguards to our information than what is currently being offered by other data collecting applications.  

CovidSafe is designed to help stop the spread of a potentially fatal virus. The app is not designed to gather your information for marketing purposes and is not being stored to keep tabs on the population. Users can also have peace of mind knowing that the app can be deleted at anytime, which would immediately stop the sharing of your information.  

We are already willingly sharing our information online every day to help huge corporations earn advertising revenue, without too much concern about privacy and what is being tracked. We can’t let conspiracy theories and fear stop us from enabling an action that may bring an end to avoidable deaths.  

Download the app, share your location and help an app designed to save lives.  

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