“As soon as the developer community heard about this they said ‘yeah that’s not technically possible so it’s not going to work’,” Mr Edwards said.
“Apple and Google made their own frameworks that handle contact tracing and because they are the operating system vendors there is a bunch of stuff they can do that a third party developer cannot do.”
Advertising the app has reportedly cost more than $60 million since the first version launched on April 26. There have been eight updates, including the latest one on Tuesday, and it has been downloaded 6.7 million times.
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said last week about 400 Victorians who tested positive in recent weeks had downloaded the app.
Data from the app has been accessed 24 times by NSW Health with six people identified that otherwise wouldn’t have been found via manual contact tracing, a spokeswoman said. No contacts were found by the app that contact tracers had not already identified in Victoria, despite the huge workload amid that state’s second wave.
Meanwhile, an app using a different framework rolled out in Ireland sent 91 users a “close contact exposure alert” telling them to get tested in its first two weeks. Dublin, Ireland’s capital, has reported 156 new cases over the past two weeks.
Ireland and the UK backtracked from their own app solutions and switched over to the Apple and Google option with some success already, an app developer, who asked not to be named due to government contracts, said.
Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick said when the app was released health officials and ministers promoted it as part of a solution when they knew it didn’t work because the Digital Transformation Agency told a committee he was on at the time it was not working.
“If the COVIDSafe app was subject to Australian consumer law the government could be dragged into court for misleading and deceptive conduct,” Mr Patrick said.
Labor’s health spokesman, Chris Bowen, called the app a flop and said despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisting it was “our ticket to freedom”, it was yet to perform as advertised.
“Despite downloads reaching the government’s (amended) target, this week we saw the Prime Minister saying in areas of outbreak people haven’t used the app, ” Mr Bowen said.
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said the app was “working exactly as intended” with health officials using it more than 300 times to assist manual tracing.
“It is making an important contribution with more than 6.7 million Australians registering for the app,” Mr Robert said.
Nigel Gladstone is an investigative journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.