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Give us a better virus-tracing app

When Australia’s $2 million COVIDSafe tracing app was launched just over two months ago, it was met with some trepidation over privacy, but also with enthusiasm. Within days of its release, millions downloaded it onto their mobile phones.

The app promised to help identify users who have been in close proximity with one another for an extended period to help in contact tracing, the labour-intensive process of finding every person who may have been exposed to an infected person. COVIDSafe could save time, and possibly lives.

The COVIDSafe app has not identified a single close contact of a person infected with the coronavirus.

The COVIDSafe app has not identified a single close contact of a person infected with the coronavirus.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

While it initially received the backing of some of Australia’s leading technology experts in terms of its protection of private data, they also pointed out obvious technical shortcomings. The app did not work very effectively when running in the background or if a phone was locked.

Testing data provided to the Senate reveals that its effectiveness, particularly on Apple iPhones, is still an issue. In late May, it worked only 25 to 50 per cent of the time in locked iPhone-to-iPhone testing, while on Android phones there were major problems sharing data with iPhones.

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