A privacy expert says Australians should be worried about the government’s reluctance to be honest about its limitations with its coronavirus contact tracing app.
While most of the problems in the COVIDSafe app could be fixed, cryptographer Vanessa Teague said the lack of transparency could give the 5.3 million people who have downloaded it a false sense of security.
Independent experts have discovered several problems with the app, including an issue with the temporary identifiers that could lead to users being trackable for days on end.
The findings come among reports that some employers want to make the app compulsory for employees returning to work.
The federal government hasn’t made the app compulsory, but has been strongly encouraging Australians to download it.
Dr Teague said the Singapore developers quickly patched one of the problems that was also present in their version, but Australia was yet to copy that fix.
“The fact they haven’t done that yet, even though they’ve shipped a new version with much prettier graphics, that to me is an indication that they don’t understand the importance of making that change,” she said.
Geoff Huntley, a software developer who has led community efforts to scrutinise the code, said he no longer supported the app.
Mr Huntley said the government’s failure to fix privacy problems had broken his trust.
— geoffrey huntley (@GeoffreyHuntley) May 6, 2020
Diabetics have also found the app interferes with their glucose monitoring software.
Many experts say the iPhone version doesn’t work unless the phone is unlocked and the app actively in use.
Digital Transformation Agency head Randall Brugeaud insists the $1.5 million app does work but concedes its performance is “highly variable”.
There could be situations where it did not record the Bluetooth “handshakes” with other users, he said.
Despite this unreliability, political leaders continue to link mass downloads of the app to easing of coronavirus restrictions.
Education Minister Dan Tehan said all teachers and university staff should download it to make sure their workplaces were safe, while Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said it was important to help contain COVID-19 outbreaks.
“We want to get people back to work. We want to get the restaurants and small businesses reopened, and these are important steps,” Mr Dutton told Sky News.
Dr Teague said a “certain level of imperfection is normal and expected in something that’s been this rushed”.
“But it’s absolutely critical to everyone’s safety that we get honest and accurate information about how well it is working,” she said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday the app’s source code would be released by the end of the day.