28 April 2020

Probing the polls: an even split on the app, and do visa holders deserve our support?

| Genevieve Jacobs
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The COVIDSafe app has caused controversy. Photo: Region Media.

Most often, there’s a fairly clear advantage for one option in our weekly polls. But RiotACT readers are level pegging on the question of whether we should download the government’s COVID-19 tracking app.

The app’s now been launched and details about how it will work are clearer.

COVIDSafe will trace every person with the app who has been in contact with someone else using the app who has tested positive for coronavirus in the previous few weeks. The intention is to automate contact tracing, and the Australian Government argues that doing so will allow restrictions to be eased more quickly.

The app is accessible from the Apple App store or Google Play store or from covidsafe.gov.au. You’ll be asked to register your name (or pseudonym), age range, postcode and phone number.

That information will be stored encrypted on a government server. Using Bluetooth, the app records anyone you get close to (within 1.5 metres) for 15 minutes or more who also has the app. The two apps exchange anonymised IDs which cycle every two hours and are stored encrypted on phones and deleted after 21 days.

If someone is infected with coronavirus, you consent to upload the list of anonymised IDs for the past 14 days of contact for contact tracing.

The app records the name you choose to provide, your age range, your phone number and your postcode, information about your encrypted user ID, information about testing positive for coronavirus, and then the contact IDs should you consent to that being uploaded.

The data will be held by the federal government on an Amazon Web Services server in Australia and the Government says that only state health authorities can access it. Legislation will be introduced into Parliament in May to ensure this.

Proponents of the app argue that most of us are already tracked to some degree by social media and other stored informaton via our banking, frequent flier points, shopping habits and entertainment purchases.

But there are also concerns about whether the Federal Government will store and use the data, and readers were evenly divided on the question of whether we can trust their intentions beyond the immediate crisis.

Our question this week was: The Federal Government wants 40 per cent of us to sign up for a COVID-19 tracing app. Will you download it? 1063 people voted on the poll.

Your options were to vote No, I don’t trust the government’s intentions with the data. This received 51 per cent of the total or 540 votes. Alternatively, you could choose to vote Yes, it’s a sensible step and we’re already tracked by social media. This received 49 per cent of the total, or 523 votes).

This week we’re asking about whether government should extend their support to visa holders and international students.

Australia has the second-largest temporary migrant workforce in the world, with 2.17 million people on temporary visas. They’re currently excluded from stimulus and support measures.

There are plenty of arguments both ways. John says: “It should be the foreign governments assisting their own citizens with urgent welfare or mercy flights as the onus has always been on the foreign governments to assist their own citizens. This is being done by Australia by providing mercy flights for Australian citizens overseas and by other foreign governments that have citizens in foreign countries at this time, providing mercy flights and repatriation assistance. It’s all too easy for countries, like New Zealand, for example, to pass the buck and not want to take responsibility for their own citizens overseas”.

But Suzanne says “The visa holder I employ pays the same taxes as everyone else so she should be entitled to support just like the others”.

Our question this week…

Should Australian governments extend economic support to visa holders and international students?

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Stephen Saunders11:36 am 29 Apr 20

I was good with the app till I realised it doesn’t actually work properly on 40% of Australian phones.

Somebody forgot to ask the geeks the exact, literal, question, “Um, does this app work on iPhones, if it’s not kept in the foreground?”

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