Gov't publicly releases COVID-19 tracking app source code

Gov't publicly releases COVID-19 tracking app source code

But the code that relates to the COVIDSafe National Information Storage System will not be released

Credit: COVIDSafe

The federal government has released the source code for its controversial COVIDSafe app publicly and is calling for feedback from researchers, developers, academics and other interested parties. 

The government’s Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) said on 8 May that any member of the public can now view the source code, which is hosted on a GitHub repository.

However, the DTA also noted that while it is releasing the app code, the code that relates to the COVIDSafe National Information Storage System will not be released, to help ensure the privacy of individuals and integrity of the overall system.

The DTA said that it welcomes the feedback that has already been provided following the app’s launch and notes that while it may not be able to reply to every individual who provides feedback, it will be reviewed and triaged depending on its impact to the security and usability of the app. 

The federal government launched its coronavirus tracing app on 25 April, promising at the time to legislate privacy protections around it as authorities try to get the country and the economy back onto more normal footing.

The app, which is based on Singapore's TraceTogether software, uses Bluetooth signals to log when people have been close to one another.

The move to make the source code publicly available follows criticism from civil liberties groups and privacy advocates over concerns about how the app uses and shares information, along with more general concerns relating to the app’s efficacy. 

Prior to launching the application, according to the DTA, the app’s source code was reviewed by government security agencies, academics and industry specialists. 

Moreover, with the public release of the code, the DTA said that, in line with standard development and software practices, it would roll out updated releases of the application and implement design changes based on their priority.

“This week we rolled out the first update, which addressed some of the most common issues raised by the community,” the DTA said on 8 May. 

That update included content changes to make the app more user friendly and to better explain to the user the process to upload data if a user tests positive to the virus.

Other changes were made to address minor registration issues associated with the name field and to stop notifications for some iOS users looping to the registration screen. The update also addressed the app causing issues with the operating system for a small number of Android users.

Going forward, the DTA said that, as with all apps, it plans to iteratively enhance COVIDSafe and it already has a plan for the next couple of releases. 

“These releases will focus on further strengthening the security of the application and improv[ing] its usability and accessibility,” the DTA said, noting that the next update will occur during the week commencing 11 May 2020.

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