Quentin Zervaas, an Australian app developer who has created his own open-source CCP virus contact tracing app called “Trace Privately,” has warned the Australian government about rushing to introduce their version in case Apple and Google phones can’t support it.
Zervaas said there will be some difficulties with the government’s “COVID Trace” app because Apple’s iPhones and Google’s Android phones are not designed to be constantly using Bluetooth to scan for other devices. Users usually have to manually turn Bluetooth on and off.
“They know their system isn’t designed and their devices aren’t designed to be basically every device pinging every other device on an ongoing basis,” said Zervaas.
Writing on Twitter on April 22, Zervaas said continuous Bluetooth usage would drain phone batteries.
Having said that, you could possibly build a semi-functioning contact tracing network with Android devices having constant background Bluetooth access, and iOS devices having partial background Bluetooth access.
But everybody’s phones will be going flat very quickly.
— Quentin Zervaas (@qzervaas) April 22, 2020
In order to find a solution to the Bluetooth problem, Google and Apple announced on April 11 that they are jointly working on a new platform to host Bluetooth tracing apps. Currently, they are trying to build this into existing platforms but have not said how long it will take, only that it will be arriving in the coming months.
“COVID Trace” is based on Singapore’s “TraceTogether” that utilizes Bluetooth technology to scan for phones that have been in contact with each other for a given period of time. The devices will exchange mobile phone numbers in a highly encrypted format that hides the identity of both users and will store the data for 21 days.
However, researchers at Macquarie University (pdf) published a review of Singapore’s “TraceTogether” app and concluded that it had some privacy issues. The Macquarie University review also warned that these kinds of apps could be used beyond their original purpose for mass surveillance.
Health Department Acting Secretary Caroline Edwards said there had been improvements made to the way the app runs compared with the Singapore version. “We understand, working with Apple and Google, it’s not perfect but it is good,” she told a Senate committee hearing on April 23.
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said the data will not be able to be accessed by the government and will only be utilised if a person tests positive for COVID-19.
No chance that I would be using an app that requires me to enter that data for secure exchange with everybody I go near. pic.twitter.com/9vjDw4YcCH
— Quentin Zervaas (@qzervaas) April 20, 2020
But the app’s ability to help the fight against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, will only work if enough people download it.
Robert said that he would like to see a 40 percent uptake in Australia. In Singapore, only 20 percent of the population is using “TraceTogether.”
On April 15, Lizzie O’Shea, chair of Digital Rights Watch, said that the tracing app should not replace a good testing regime. “It is far from clear that such an app will even be effective at the primary task. There is a real risk of false positives, as unless and until we have widespread testing, even the best technology in the world cannot fix the problem,” she said.
The federal government has not announced when it will release “COVID Trace” to the public. The government services minister said that National Cabinet would have some options to review in a couple of weeks.