Tracking & privacyExamining Australia’s COVIDSafe Tracing App

Published 28 April 2020

The Australian government releases an App called COVIDSafe to help in tracing contacts of those infected with the coronavirus. As is the case with similar apps in other countries, COVIDSafe has raised privacy concerns, especially about the potential of abuse by government agencies and hacking by cybercriminals. The University of Sydney academics from the disciplines of cybersecurity, media, law and health comment on COVIDSafe, its pros and cons.

University of Sydney academics from the disciplines of cybersecurity, media, law and health comment on COVIDSafe, the COVID-19 contact tracing app released by the federal government.

App “Adequately” Addresses Privacy Concerns
University of Sydney cybersecurity expert Dr. Suranga Seneviratne believes the Australian government tracking app COVIDSafe adequately addresses privacy concerns and can be considered low-risk given it cannot access sensitive data, such as personal contacts and location.

The COVIDSafe app appears to adequately address widely discussed privacy concerns. It doesn’t seem to collect anything other than what is required, and good security practices have been followed. For example, the app does not have access to sensitive information, such as contact lists, GPS location, or SMS content,” said Seneviratne from the Faculty of Engineering’s School of Computer Science

It might be good to open source the code so the information security community can have a closer look. Nonetheless, as of now, one could decompile the Android version using open source tools and obtain a fair estimation of the app’s behavior by statistical analysis,” he said.

If you are downloading the app, check the developer information and ensure that you download the official version of the app where the Australian Department of Health is listed as the app developer. Do not install the app from any other sources other than the two official app stores; Google Play and the Apple App Store.

Users may expect a slightly degraded battery performance due to the continuous usage of Bluetooth.

A possible improvement to the app could be using a fully distributed storage solution rather than centralized cloud storage, which is currently used. Nonetheless, given the minimum amount of data collected by the app, it is not something critical at this stage.”

The More People Who Use the App, the Safer Society Will Be
Australians will need to sign up quickly and in large numbers for COVIDSafe to work effectively, says School of Economics academic, Professor Robert Slonim

“There is a real urgency to getting a high percentage of Australians to download and register for the COVIDSafe app immediately. It will be much harder to encourage people to download the app later if only a small percentage downloads it initially,” said Professor Slonim.