News Coronavirus Australians flock to download virus app, as privacy fears are dismissed
Updated:

Australians flock to download virus app, as privacy fears are dismissed

covidsafe app victoria
Australian authorities said the COVIDSafe app will help us keep on top of potential outbreaks. Photo: AAP
Share
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

UPDATED 9.30PM, 27/4/2020 (AEST)

Australians have rushed to download a coronavirus tracking app, with chief medical officer Brendan Murphy expecting more than two million to have installed it by the end of Monday.

The COVIDSafe app was downloaded more than a million times in the 12 hours after its release on Sunday night, and that pace showed little sign of slowing on Monday.

“I would be confident we might be beating yesterday’s performance if we keep going,” Professor Murphy said on Monday afternoon.

“I am really excited over a million Australians downloaded it just in the first evening. That is an amazing and really gratifying outcome.”

By 4pm, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the downloads had hit 1.89 million.

The tech community has also swung behind the new contract tracing software after analysing it with privacy concerns in mind.

The COVIDSafe app is designed to help health officials identify people who have come into contact with somebody infected with the disease.

Opposition health spokesman Chris Bowen was among the first to download the tracing app and believes his Labor colleagues have too.

“That’s a decision I’m personally comfortable to make. It’s a decision, as far as I’m aware, that all of my Labor MPs are making,” he told ABC radio on Monday.

However, others are less confident. One Nation senator Pauline Hanson said she had no intention of installing the app.

“I don’t want them tracking me. I don’t trust the government,” she told Today on Monday.

“Why the hell would I let the government give it to them personally to download my information?”

Nationals backbencher Barnaby Joyce is another nay-sayer. He said he would not download COVIDSafe until he had a briefing from the responsible minister.

But software developer Matthew Robbins said the general consensus among his peers was that the app was fine.

“It’s totally fine to install and it’s a good public service to do so,” he said.

“If the tech community is pulling it apart and critically analysing it and hopefully effectively communicating what we’re seeing, I do think that people will uptake it.

“We’re really being a counterbalance to what [the government] are saying.”

covidsafe app downloads
Professor Murphy (right) with AMA president Tony Bartone at Sunday’s launch. Photo: AAP

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes urged the tech community to “turn the … angry mob mode off” and instead help the government fight misinformation.

“When asked by non-technical people ‘should I install this app? Is my data/privacy safe? Is it true it doesn’t track my location?’ – say yes, and help them understand,” he wrote on the Hacker News discussion board.

“Remind them how little they think before they download dozens of free, adware crap games that are likely far worse for their data and privacy than this ever would be.”

Mr Cannon-Brookes said the Morrison government had made smart privacy and security choices with the app.

The voluntary app became available for download on Sunday night and has the backing of doctors, nurses, businesses, bankers and travel agents.

Health Minister Greg Hunt was pleased with the initial uptake.

“We had, in our quiet hopes, thought that we might get to a million within five days – we were lucky enough to get there within five hours,” he told Sky News.

That figure rose to 1.13 million by early Monday morning.

The government ultimately wants at least 40 per cent of the population on board – more than 10 million people.

Mr Hunt confirmed people concerned about privacy could use a fake name to register.

Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said there were safeguards to protect personal information collected through the app, and her office would watch its implementation closely.

The health department said it would publish the source code if the Australian Cyber Security Centre gives it the OK. That is expected to be available in about a fortnight.

Legislation making misuse of the data collected via the app a jailable offence won’t be taken to federal parliament until May.

-with AAP