COVIDSafe app gets important update

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

COVIDSafe has received an important update that fixed a number of bugs and improved iPhone functionality. The Opposition and developers are now calling on the government to encourage the near-six million Australians who have downloaded the contact tracing app to update it.

The Digital Transformation Agency on Wednesday released an update for the app, with a very broad description of what was included: “push notifications made optional, improvements to Bluetooth security and connectivity, accessibility enhancements, bug fixes”.

A further update was rolled out over the weekend removing the daily notifications entirely.

Despite the broad wording, Australian developers who have been combing over the COVIDSafe source code since it was released said that the update included a number of fixes for security issues and bugs, and goes a long way to fix the app’s performance issues on Apple devices.

Canberra Parliament House
COVID app update: Calls for a bigger communications campaign on the app

The update fixed a vulnerability that could have allowed for tracking of the unique identifiers through the app, software developer Jim Mussared said, and also removed the potential for denial of service attack and also greatly improved the functionality of the app while running in the background on iPhones.

There have been muddled and contradictory messages from the government and DTA over COVIDSafe’s performance on iPhones and effectiveness when not running in the foreground. The update has gone a long way towards fixing these issues, Mr Mussared said.

“I’m almost disappointed for the DTA that they can’t get out there and scream from the rooftops because unfortunately they said it was never broken,” he said.

“There has to be some admission of the way they addressed serious security issues, and it would be really wonderful if they could say they fixed the iPhone. Now it works as well as they said it used to.

“That’s important because people are not installing the app because they think it doesn’t work and they haven’t told people it has been fixed.”

The government’s attention and public communications have still been focused on trying to convince more Australians to download the COVIDSafe app, with restrictions easing around the country.

But there needed to be more focus on ensuring everyone who has already downloaded it to proactively update the app if they do not have these turned on automatically, shadow assistant minister for cybersecurity Tim Watts said.

“An important update to the COVIDSafe iPhone app was released today improving both the security and the ability of the app to register contacts,” Mr Watts said.

“While the PM regularly urges people to download the app he’s said nothing about the need for people to update this app,” he said.

Speaking in Parliament last week, Mr Watts said that if the Apple and Google API for contact tracing app is incorporated into COVIDSafe, there would need to be a significant campaign to ensure enough people update the app.

“It’s now important that the government prioritises incorporating the Google-Apple API iOS integration as soon as possible to maximise the number of potential contacts caught. Once this new version is released, we’ll also need a new public information campaign to encourage people to update the app to catch the 10 per cent to 20 per cent of users who don’t regularly update the app on their phones,” he said.

“This app could play an important role in helping us move beyond the current coronavirus restrictions, so it’s important that the government gets its implementation right.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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