Controversial COVIDSafe app is finally scrapped

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The controversial COVIDSafe app has been scrapped by new Health minister Mark Butler, who deemed it “no longer required” to control the spread of coronavirus. Launched two years ago with much fanfare, the app has only discovered 17 unique close contacts.

Mr Butler exercised a clause in the COVIDSafe legislation to end the collection and storage of data late last month, later describing the app as a “colossal waste” of taxpayers money.

The determination was published Tuesday, along with an update to the contact tracing app that removes data collection and advises users to uninstall the app.

“The COVIDSafe app will longer collect or transmit data. Data is no longer collected and will be deleted from the National COVIDSafe Data Store. Data on your device will be deleted when you uninstall the app,” the latest release notes say.

No data has been uploaded to the COVIDSafe data store since May last year and no state or territory health authority has accessed it since January.

The Health department is now working to delete all COViDSafe app data as soon as possible, and no data from the app will be retained, according to the government.

The decommissioning brings an end to one of the most controversial technology solutions to the pandemic, which ultimately proved largely ineffective.

The COVIDSafe app was launched in 2020 by the federal government and uses a smartphone’s Bluetooth technology to log close contacts between users, and then send these to a national database which state health authorities can access if a user tests positive for Covid-19.

COVIDSafe app has been decommissioned. Credit: Shutterstock

Despite the federal government comparing its use to putting on sunscreen, the app has only discovered 17 unique close contacts in the two years since it was launched.

A report by an independent consultancy found that COVIDSafe was “ineffective” in very high-risk settings and was wasting the time of state health authorities.

It cost nearly $10 million in private consultancy fees to develop COVIDSafe, and was costing about $60,000 per month to run.

There is no longer any contact tracing taking place in Australia, rendering COVIDSafe effectively pointless.

“This failed app was a colossal waste of more than $21 million of taxpayers money,” Health minister Mark Butler said in a statement on Wednesday.

“…The former Prime Minister said this app would be our ‘sunscreen’ against COVID-19 — all it did was burn through taxpayer’s money.”

In the lead up to the federal election, Labor had said it would act on the Health department’s advice as to whether to continue COVIDSafe.

The latest determination said Mr Butler is satisfied the app is now redundant.

“…[the] use of COVIDSafe is no longer required to prevent or control; the entry, emergence, establishment or spread of the coronavirus known as COVID‑19 into Australia or any part of Australia,” it said.

The Senate Select Committee on Covid-19 earlier this year called on the federal government to halt any future spending on the COVIDSafe app, saying it is “not fit for its intended purpose, has cost millions of dollars, and offered limited public value”.

This article has been updated to include information and comments released by Mark Butler after publication.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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