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COVIDSafe App | Is The Government Spying On You?

Jeff Herbert | Web Consultant

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The Australian Government is asking citizens to download the COVIDSafe App and use it when leaving the house so we can collectively slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Downloading and using the COVIDSafe App is voluntary and a free safety measure to help protect yourself, your family, friends and other Australians from the virus. As with most digital initiatives rolled out by the government, the app has been met with speculation about security protocols and fear about personal data becoming public that we’ll address in this article. 

Four Pi CEO, Chris Long, recently streamed to an audience via Facebook Live Video where he introduces and discusses the COVIDSafe App, the technology being used, what data the app actually collects and answers the question ‘is the government spying on me?’.

Here are the topics discussed below: 

  • Will the COVIDSafe App work?
  • How does the COVIDSafe App work?
  • Is the government spying on you?
  • Are better COVID Apps coming?
  • Centralised vs Decentralised Networks
  • Audience questions


Will the COVIDSafe App work?

Firstly, the COVIDSafe App won’t physically protect you from the virus or make you immune from contracting the illness. You probably realise that but it’s important people are told.

Having said that, the COVIDSafe App is a fantastic method of detecting asymptomatic transmission of the virus. 

‘Asymptomatic’ refers to one carrying the COVID-19 virus but not showing any of the symptoms. The dangerous part of being asymptomatic is people are not prompted to get tested, don’t self isolate and can still infect people. 

Where the COVIDSafe App truly does it’s job is fighting against community transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

If your partner gets diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus they’ll no-doubt inform you so you can get tested and self-isolate from others. But what happens when the delivery man, grocery worker or complete stranger has it and can’t inform you? That’s where the COVIDSafe App is designed to notify you if you’ve come into contact with strangers.

The best way to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus is by downloading and correctly using the COVIDSafe App. Chris details it in the below video.  



How does the COVIDSafe App work?

The COVIDSafe App is an iPhone and Android application that the Australian government is asking citizens to instal and use to help slow the spread of the virus. The app tracks moments when you’re physically close to other people and will send a notification if you’ve been close to a known COVID-19 carrier.

The app works by using your phones ‘Bluetooth Scanning’ technology to search and detect when you’re near someone else's device. When another bluetooth signal is identified a ‘handshake’ moment occurs where the two phones don’t connect, but the COVIDSafe App records the moment as a ‘contact-event’.

The app will keep a log of the ‘contact events’ stored on the phone for 21 days only calling upon it when you flag yourself as being diagnosed with the virus. Once being flagged as a carrier, the COVIDSafe App will look at the log of ‘contact events’ and send notifications to those users who will receive a prompt on their devices that they have been in the same vicinity as a COVID-19 carrier and suggest they self isolate. Your name, location and details will not be shared. 



Is the government spying on you via the COVIDSafe App?

The short answer: No - the government is not spying on you via the COVIDSafe App (for now at least). Let’s look into it deeper…

Not until you flag yourself as a diagnosed COVID-19 carrier in the app does your information get submitted to a centralised database (and you can even use a fake name if that makes you feel more secure). Once that happens that’s when your ‘contact-events’ are recognised and notifications are sent out to other users - they will not be told who you are, where you live or where your ‘contact-event’ occurred.


Does the COVIDSafe App track and share my location?

No - the COVIDSafe App does not use GPS data or location tracking information so it does not know where you are and can’t share that information. 

It’s important to note that for Android users, the COVIDSafe App will ask permission to access your devices Bluetooth and inadvertently request access for location access. Even though they ask this, the app does not use your location services.

After 21 days the COVIDSafe App doesn’t need your contact-event data anymore, so all that stored data in your phone is deleted automatically.


For iPhone users, iOS has built-in security measures. Apple has their ecosystem locked down so you can’t actually access bluetooth unless you’re a paired device (like a bluetooth speaker). Apple has locked down the scanning detection so much so that the app only works when the app is open on your screen.

This is a really important thing to note when using the COVIDSafe App on iPhone: You need to have the COVIDSafe App always open on your iPhone for it to function correctly.

In the below video, Four Pi CEO, Chris Long, discusses the personal security and privacy issues surrounding the COVIDSafe App and identifying how much of our data, actions and movements are being tracked by the app. 

Chris also addresses audience questions during the Live Facebook Video: 

  • What data does the government get about me from the COVIDSafe App?
  • Does the COVIDSafe App track and share my location?
  • Why does the iPhone COVIDSafe App need to be open to work?
  • Does the COVIDSafe App work in the background or does it need to be up and open?



Are better COVID Apps coming?

Yes! New technologies are being developed and coming at an unspecified date which will allow background COVID-19 infection tracing.

In exciting news, Google and Apple are sharing API to help develop a great smartphone app product and release it to the market.

Unfortunately there is no clear timeline for the release of new technology to help fight the COVID-19 virus and reduce infections globally.

Technology development, rollouts and launches are complex (Chris Long and Four Pi know all about rolling out huge apps). A massive rush to release technology will be worse than using inferior technology, so there is no doubt that developers are working as quickly as they can without sacrificing the quality and effectiveness of their product.

Watch the below video to hear about technology complexities and why the COVIDSafe App is the best solution for Australians to reduce the COVID-9 virus infection rate. 



Centralised Networks vs Decentralised Networks

Privacy, security and your personal data has been a major cloud above the COVIDSafe App which is why we’re going to look at the differences between a Centralised Network and a Decentralised Network.

Decentralised Networks - Data is passed through several nodes rather than being stored in a single server location. Everyone's data is hidden until permission is given to access the data. Nobody can connect the data passing through or connect it to a unique person.

Centralised Networks - All data is stored on a central server which is encrypted. Someone, somewhere, will have access to the encrypted database where they can see specific data and identify the person that data belongs to. 

The COVIDSafe App uses a Centralised Network - Between the two options, centralised networks are inferior to decentralised networks but don’t let that bother you - you’re using multiple centralised networks right now. Facebook, your email platform, the productivity tools for managing a remote business are all using centralised networks and you’re not even noticing.

Watch this video to see Chris Long discuss how COVIDSafe App is securely handling your privacy by discussing the differences between a Centralised Network and a Decentralised Network. 



Audience questions about the COVIDSafe App

At the end of the COVIDSafe App live video on Facebook, Chris Long, took questions from the live audience and answered the following:

Does the COVIDSafe App need to be on all the time while at work? 

Unless you’re dealing with the public constantly, like a grocery store checkout worker, the answer is ‘no’. If you’re working in an environment with the same people you know then registering all those contact-events in the app isn’t much help. If a colleague was to contract COVID-19 they would inform your employer who would notify you. The app is best used in public so if an infected stranger makes contact then you’ll be notified.


How will I be notified if I’m close to a COVID-19 carrier? Will the app notify me straight away? 

The COVIDSafe App will NOT notify you as soon as you’ve registered a contact-event. The app will notify you at a later date if you’ve been potentially exposed to a carrier.


Does the COVIDSafe App track and share my location? 

No - the COVIDSafe App does not use GPS data or location tracking information so it does not know where you are and can’t share that information.

It’s important to note that for Android users the COVIDSafe App will ask permission to access your devices Bluetooth and inadvertently request access for location access. Even though they ask for this permission the app does not use your location services.


📝 In summary of the COVIDSafe App information. 

The COVIDSafe App is not perfect but it’s the best option Australian citizens have right now. It can’t prevent you getting the virus, but with a wide adoption and correct use of the app then we can be more informed and help slow the spread of the disease. Asymptomatic detection is the key benefit of this app.



What Next ?

Have a question about project management or remote working? Feel free to contact Chris and the team any time: https://4pi.com.au/contact


You can see the entire video playlist of Chris discussing the COVIDSafe App here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLZrl9Ih8iMdwDBrjDzENf9fho0IGM1Z8q


This videos above are clips from a Facebook Live on the Four Pi Web & App Development Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/4piweb


For a range of other digital and technology guidance you can follow the official Four Pi Web & App Development channels:

Four Pi Webite: https://4pi.com.au

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/4piweb

Instagram: https://instagram.com/4piweb

Twitter: https://twitter.com/4piweb

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4pi-web-and-app-development


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