Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Face mask emoji

The Wrap – Will COVIDSafe keep us safe?

The government’s COVIDSafe app is out, and we’re talking about it. What does it do, and is it safe? Tech commentator Stilgherrian joins us for this show, covering mobile payments and extra data in the time of corona. All in five.

Subscribe to The Wrap at Apple Podcasts…


It’s the very beginning of May 2020, and this is The Wrap, Australia’s fastest technology roundup, and while we’ve lost count of where we are in this work from home, self-isolation situation — is it week six or seven? I don’t even know anymore — we’re beginning to make a dent on that coronavirus curve.

Staying at home and doing our part might be annoying, it might feel like cabin fever, but if you use that time wisely — maybe getting some new skills, working out, learning how to play music, or just getting through some of that entertainment you swore you would — and then going out for the occasional walk by yourself, it doesn’t have to be quite as bad.

It is very difficult to stop people from going outside in general, though people with COVID-19 clearly need to stay home and stay isolated, at least until it’s gone. Staying at home might have an effect on your mobile data, but fortunately telcos are coming somewhat to the rescue lately, as data increases and extensions kick in across Australia.

We’ve heard it from a few telcos recently, with Optus rolling out double data for select prepaid recharges, Telstra increasing data for its mobile broadband customers alongside its 25GB bonus data, Vodafone giving additional data in the time of coronavirus, and Amaysim getting a little boost in data as well.

That should ease the burden of staying home, just a little bit, because it means that while you might be dependent on internet access, it might just ease the strain on your home’s internet connection, relying on your phone instead.

When you do go out, there’s some good news at least in regards to paying for things, because all of Australia’s big four banks have finally joined the modern era and now support mobile tap payments. Westpac was the last hold out, and it joined ANZ, Commonwealth, and NAB with support for Apple Pay this week, while Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Fitbit Pay, and Garmin Pay support is scattered around.

And it’s not just that paying with cash is passe, but more that it’s being refused at more places throughout the coronavirus crisis, because it’s just one more thing you have to touch if you go outside.

You probably don’t want to touch more than you have to as it is, and those of us who have to go outside are probably doing what they can to steer clear of others we don’t know. But if you have to go outside, you might want to download an app to your phone this week, as the Australian government has launched the COVID Safe app.

As the name suggests, this is largely about keeping people safe from the COVID-19 coronavirus, though it’s not an alert system of sorts. You’re not going to walk around and have it work like a metal detector, because again, those people should be at home in isolation or at the hospital getting better.

COVIDSafe is more about tracking proximity to others who may or may not get COVID-19 later on. You have to be within spitting distance of that person for longer than a few seconds — about 15 minutes, actually — and you’ll only find out whether it affects you if they test positive for COVID-19 and upload their data on the app. That means if you do find out, it’ll be an alert in a few days to a few weeks, and it might not happen, because the COVIDSafe app is voluntary.

And that means people might use it, and others just might not. It works on Android and iPhone, though it’s a little more in the background on Android than on the iPhone.

Because it’s voluntary, it’s may not be as effective. As of right now, two million Australians have downloaded the app, but whether it’s in use on that many devices isn’t yet known. And that’s before you deal with the prospect of privacy and whether it’s a terrible app or not.

Stilgherrian, Freelance Journalist & Commentator:
COVIDSafe isn’t actually terrible. There’s privacy concerns, problems on iOS. I think they’re overblown, but we won’t see the legislation until mid-May. And all it does is discover who a COVID-19 positive person has been within 1.5 metres of for 15 minutes. That’s handy data, but leaves out a lot of potential infection paths. Could it give us a false sense of security and lead to riskier behaviour? No one knows. I’m waiting for version 2.

That’s what freelance technology journalist and commentator Stilgherrian told us this week, easily one of Australia’s best writers on security and technology, which might alleviate some of those concerns just a little, or might leave them well and truly open. There’s no data to suggest the COVIDSafe app works to track and minimise the coronavirus infection in Australia just yet, but it’s a fair sight better than the no app we had to start with.

And that means you could use it, or you could just wait. Staying home will mean you have little reason to use it right now, but go out and about, and it might just be useful, you know, if you’re the trusting type.

Or you could wait for version two, as Stilgherrian said, though that might be some time off. Maybe if we’re lucky, coronavirus will be flattened in Australia and we won’t need version two at all.

For now, you’ve been listening to The Wrap, Australia’s fastest technology roundup. Thanks to Stilgherrian for joining us this week. A new episode of The Wrap goes online every Friday at Podcast One, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts, but until then, have a great week. We’ll see you next time on The Wrap. Stay safe and take care.

Read next