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COVIDSafe may need privacy changes to use new Apple and Google tool

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Governments could explain in the app what the benefits of providing contact details were, but users should be making an informed choice, the spokesperson said.

Apple and Google said public health agencies could define the parameters that constituted a contact risk, and could determine the content of notifications shown to at-risk users, for example suggesting next steps.

So even if a user did not supply a phone number and could not be contacted by the government, the user could still get appropriate advice.

A spokesperson for the government said it was exploring the possibility of integrating the new tool, but did not comment on potential changes to COVIDSafe’s functionality.

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“The technology and uptake of Australia’s COVIDSafe app is leading the world and [Health Minister Greg Hunt] is today meeting with the VP of Apple to discuss its success and Australia’s roadmap out of the crisis,” the spokesperson said.

“The DTA [Digital Transformation Agency] and the Department of Health have been working with Apple and Google to understand and test the exposure notification framework since it was released, to see how it can be applied in Australia. That testing is ongoing.”

The DTA last week announced a new update to COVIDSafe that it says makes Bluetooth performance stronger.

Apple and Google said the new technology is designed to supplement existing contact tracing efforts around the world, rather than replace them. It uses Bluetooth to keep track of which smartphones have been physically near each other, so if someone tests positive to COVID-19 a notification can be sent to everyone with the app who may have been exposed.

The companies say this allows for a much quicker notification than traditional contact tracing (done by conducting interviews with those who test positive) in some situations.

The COVIDSafe app works in a similar way, but without deeper access to Android and iOS it faces limitations when it comes to consistently passing Bluetooth information between phones.

An Apple and Google spokesperson said this was one of the main benefits of their new tool, as phones could ensure Bluetooth beacons were sent and received regularly and reliably, but without interruption to the ordinary use of the phone.

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