EXPLAINER

Who will see coronavirus contact tracing app data?

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy is thrilled with the amount of people who have downloaded the app. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy is thrilled with the amount of people who have downloaded the app. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Early signs show Australians are registering faster than the federal government expected for its new app helping health authorities trace contacts of people with COVID-19.

The app is designed to speed up contact tracing once a person has tested positive for the coronavirus, potentially stopping anyone who has caught the illness from them spreading it further.

We look at how the app works, what information it collects, and where that information goes.

What's the app called, and where can I find it?

The app is named COVIDSafe. It's available for download in App Store for iPhones, and Google Play for Android phones.

What does installing the app involve?

When you download the app, you provide a name, your mobile number and postcode and select your age range. You will receive a confirmation text message to complete the installation.

After this information is registered, an encrypted reference code is generated for the app on that phone. The code is changed every two hours to make it more secure.

Why does it need this information?

Health authorities will use the age range to decide which users to prioritise contacting once someone with the app tests positive for COVID-19.

They'll use the mobile phone numbers to call users, and let them know they've been close to someone with the virus, while the postcode will make sure the right state or territory authority gets in touch.

How does the app work, and what information does it gather?

Other than the information you provide when registering, the app uses Bluetooth to recognise other devices that have COVIDSafe installed and Bluetooth enabled.

When this happens, it records the date, time, distance and duration of the contact, and the other user's encrypted reference code.

The app does not collect your location.

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To be effective, it needs to be running as users come into contact with people. Users will receive daily notifications to ensure the app is running.

Contact information collected by the app is encrypted and stored securely on your phone, and not even you can access it.

The contact information stored in people's mobiles is deleted on a 21-day rolling cycle, a period that takes into account the COVID-19 incubation period and the time it takes to get tested.

Who can access the information?

Once a user tests positive for COVID-19 and gives permission, the contact information will be uploaded to a secure storage system, and state and territory health officials will use the contacts captured by the app as they conduct contact tracing. They will use the information to call people to let them or their parent or guardian know they may have been exposed to COVID-19, and advise them how to get tested.

Health officials will not name the person who was infected. Commonwealth government officials won't be able to access the contact information collected by the app.

Will it drain my phone battery?

The federal government has said that testing of the technology showed that battery consumption was only marginally greater on devices with the app running.

University of Western Australia Centre for Software and Security Practice expert David Glance says at this time, the app does not seem to consume significant power.

If I decide to delete the app, what happens to the information?

If you delete the app, this will delete all app information from your phone. The information in the storage system will not be deleted until the end of the pandemic, however if you would like it to be deleted sooner, you can request this online through a data deletion form.

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This story Who will see my coronavirus contact tracing app data? first appeared on The Canberra Times.