Gov’t tackles COVIDSafe Bluetooth, security concerns with update

Gov’t tackles COVIDSafe Bluetooth, security concerns with update

Follows criticism of the app's Bluetooth performance with some phones and security concerns

Credit: COVIDSafe

The federal government has pushed an update for its controversial COVID-19 contact tracing mobile app in an effort to address Bluetooth performance issues and privacy advocates’ security concerns. 

The government’s Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) revealed on 14 May it had released the second of a planned series of updates for the app, providing a set of new enhancements.

One of the focus areas with the latest update is the app’s Bluetooth performance. The latest update includes new code from the United Kingdom Government’s National Health Service app (NHSX) aimed at improving the COVIDSafe app’s Bluetooth performance on iOS devices, including when the device is locked.

Security also features heavily in the latest update, with the government introducing new improvements to the security and stability of the app, including guidance about Bluetooth pairing to inform individuals in making decisions about their own privacy. 

“We have also included improvements that further strengthen security for Android users,” the DTA said in a blog post.

The second release also addresses some accessibility issues, according to the agency, including VoiceOver functionality, with improved recognition of buttons, headings and checkboxes.

The latest update for the app, which is based on Singapore's TraceTogether software and uses Bluetooth signals to log when people have been close to one another, comes roughly a week after the DTA publicly released the source code for the app.

The DTA said on 8 May that any member of the public could now view the source code, which is hosted on a GitHub repository.

The move to make the source code publicly available followed 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.

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 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 DTA plans to continue to update COVIDSafe in the period ahead and is already working on the next release.

In the meantime, the agency said it encourages users and members of the tech community to review the source code and provide it with feedback about possible issues.

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