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If You Don't Download The COVIDSafe App You're A Hypocrite

Maybe you’re not a hypocrite – maybe you’re just unaware.

There is massive distrust towards an app designed purely for public health benefits, at a critical time for our economy. Yet the lion’s share of the people complaining freely sign away their privacy every time they pick up their phone.

It’s beyond ironic that the loudest rants against the COVIDSafe app are happening on social media -- where billion-dollar business models are based on harvesting, manipulating and selling your data.

But putting that to the side, if concern about your prized, valuable data is the main thing standing in your way from downloading this app, then I truly hope this article clears some things up.

Before we deep dive into the app itself, a quick lesson on how websites work.

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I am a happy user of the COVID-19 contact-tracing app.

Every user has a unique IP address that identifies them. By using IP addresses, websites can determine your location and track what you do on their site, including the pages you visit, how long you stick around, and which website you visited before and after theirs.

Whenever you load a new web page, your browser sends data to the website’s server. If you visit cutekittensgivemelife.com and then click a link to dogsareobvscuter.com, the puppy site is going to know that you’ve just come from the kitty club thanks to the HTTP referrer.

If you were signed into Facebook at the time, then it matches all of these clicks up to your Facebook profile, which has access to (amongst other things) your credit score.

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As the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Australia are heading in the right direction and cumulative cases are starting to flatten, many are calling for the restrictions to be eased and for life to return back to normal.

In other words: if you have ever visited a website, that website holds more data on you than this app ever will. Where is that data stored and who has access? Goodness knows!

But getting back to the app.

COVIDSafe operates as a double opt-in. You opt in when you download the app, at which point your data is stored on your own phone. You must opt in again if a COVID event happens, which is when the data will be stored by the government.

To be crystal clear -- and I’m shouting it for the people up the back -- You Must Give Permission For Your (minuscule amount of) Data To Be Stored. It will only be sent to the much-hyped and maligned Amazon powered servers after you have agreed.

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Scott Morrison has warned "of course" COVID infections will spike when restrictions are eased, but said that was a reason to download the government's tracing app.

Some more truth bombs about what the app will actually capture:

  • Your name (or a fake name or a nickname), mobile number, postcode and age range. You share more information (full legal name, postal address, email, phone number and credit card) with an online retailer.
  • You need Bluetooth enabled. This is freaking people out. It’s required so that the app can recognise other users and notes the date, time, distance and duration of the contact and the other user’s reference code. Importantly: the COVIDSafe app does not collect your location information, nor does it share it with anyone. All of the data is stored on YOUR device.
  • All data is encrypted to the point that not even you can access it. None of this data leaves your phone until someone actually tests positive to COVID and even then, as mentioned -- you have to give permission for that data to be uploaded to the health cloud. Furthermore, each digital handshake purges/self-deletes after 21 days. Read more about how that process works here.

Now, look, I know that our government doesn’t have the shiniest track record when it comes to storing and protecting our data. But why have you decided that this is your moment to draw a line in the sand and say “enough”? If you’re fretting that the COVIDSafe app marks our descent into Orwellian times, I’m afraid that ship has well and truly sailed.

It started a couple of decades ago, when the seeds were sewn to give us the ability to walk around with personal computers in our hands, pockets and bags. It solidified about a decade ago, when Target got so skilled at tracking customer habits, it figured out a teenager was pregnant before her parents did.

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And now, we are being tracked all the time. Every moment of the day. On our phones, on our computers, in real life. Our faces are captured by increasingly sophisticated AI technology on the daily and it’s being stored who knows where and being sold who knows how.

Translation: we can’t get off this train now.

And if you’re going to be outraged about Big Brother tracking your every move, you can’t cherry pick when you’re going to be outraged.

You can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that your telco knows where you get your coffee (and at what time); that you splurged on Uber Eats last night at 7:08 pm; and that you swiped through Tinder for two hours before calling your mum.

You can’t low-key know that corporations have all of this data on you and you have no idea where it is stored, or for how long, or how well it is encrypted, or who has access to it.

You can’t be this ambivalent but then decide not to download the COVIDSafe app because “privacy”.

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This speaks to the high level of distrust people have of governments and politicians, but the fact remains: we are all anxious about the loss of life or livelihoods due to COVID. We are desperate to send our kids back to school. We are concerned about the deteriorating mental health of loved ones, and we are seeing the terrifying stats on soaring domestic violence rates.

We are struggling with anxiety and financial pressures, and yet amidst all of this, we’re meant to respect the fact that the sanctity of a tiny amount of mobile phone data is too precious and valuable for some to download an app which could put 26 million Australians back on a path back to reopening society?

I call bullsh*t.

If you have a mobile phone, you have already given up your right to privacy.

There is no reason you shouldn't download this app -- and 26 million reasons why you should.

Featured Image: Getty