Download the Tracing App – No Worries
In about a week’s time the Government is going to introduce a ‘tracing app’ and ask everyone to download it. The aim of the app is to make contact tracing easier so that people who may be at risk of having the virus can get tested faster and get treatment earlier. From this point of view it is a life saver.
The app works by sending the phone number of any person you have contact with for more than 15 minutes, who also has the app, to the cloud. If that person tests positive to the virus then you will automatically get a text message telling you to go and have a test. It will not tell you the name or number of the person who tested positive or the location where the contact took place. In fact no locational details will be stored, only phone numbers.
The download of the app will be voluntary but the advantages of it are many. Firstly it will mean that you are notified as soon as any contact you may have had tests positive. At the moment. contact tracing involves thousands of people making phone calls and asking people who have tested positive to remember who they have had more than fifteen minutes contact with over the past fortnight. In many cases they won’t remember or won’t be able to identify the people involved.
Secondly it enables authorities to quickly identify virus hot spots and take measures to contain any possible breakout.
Thirdly if there is a rapid response process in place this, combined with more extensive testing, will enable authorities to ease restrictions and to kick start the economy. But to be effective it requires at least 40% and preferably 70% of the mobile phone owners to sign up.
At the moment there is a certain amount of push back from cyber libertarians and young people. The cyber libertarians are concerned that we may not see all the software code and so we cannot know what the data is being used for. Young people are concerned that authorities will know where they have been and who they have met. Since Google ‘timelines’ already tracks where phone users have been, authorities can easily get that data. Presumably people who are likely to be contacted for nefarious purposes won’t download the app.
Some Government backbenchers, such as Barnaby Joyce and Deputy Speaker, Llew O’brien, have said that they won’t download the app.
"I treasure the government knowing as little about me as possible," Mr Joyce told Nine newspapers on Sunday.
"Australia is doing an extraordinary job of flattening the curve by reason that we are overwhelmingly decent and logical people. We don't need an app to tell us that."
People like Mr. Joyce will have to be reassured by the piracy protections that will be regulated with the app. These are that the app will be used for health purposes only; access to the data will e extremely limited and it will not be stored once the pandemic is over.
If it is implemented on this basis it is pretty clear that the benefits will strongly outweigh the costs. One would have thought that politicians, who have to meet hundreds of constituents on any single day, would be among the first to sign up.