The Federal Government’s COVIDSafe app has been downloaded close to two million times since its release Sunday night, but how do you get it on your smartphone and what issues might you run into?
The coronavirus tracing app is designed to speed up the contact-tracing process and will allow health authorities to quickly notify people if they have been in contact with a confirmed case.
Using Bluetooth technology, the app “pings” and records information with another user if they come within 1.5 metres or spend 15 minutes or more with each other.
When you register with the app, it will collect a name, your mobile phone number, age range and post code.
It will also generate an encrypted code unique to you that health authorities will use to contact you if needed.
The voluntary app can now be downloaded, so here’s how to do it:
How do I download the app?
Step One: Check you’re on Wi-Fi or ensure you are using your phone’s data. To check you are using data, look in the top right or left corner of your phone where it will display a ‘3G, 4G or 5G’ icon.
Step Two: On an iPhone, you will have a little blue application already on your device called App Store. You click on that and search for ‘COVIDSafe’.
On an Android phone, the app will be a colourful triangle called Google Play. Go in there and search ‘COVIDSafe’.
NOTE: The app you are looking for will appear as a green icon and should show an outline of Australia and a white tick in the centre with the words ‘COVIDSAFE’ around it.
Step Three: Click the button that says ‘Get’ or ‘Download’, wait for it to download. Then open the app on your phone and follow the prompts.
Twitter tweet error message COVIDSafe
Is my smartphone too old?
The app will work on old devices, it just depends if your phone is compatible with the correct software.
If you have an iPhone you will need iOS (operating system) 10.0 or later.
It is also compatible with a number of other devices including an iPad or iPod touch.
For Android users you will need software 6.0 or above to download the app.
If you haven’t run a software update on your smartphone for a while you should do that before you try to download the app.
I’m having problems with Bluetooth!
Those with Android smartphones should be able to use their devices normally while the app runs in the background.
However, iPhone users have been advised to avoid using ‘low battery mode’ on their device as this can prevent the app from running in the background.
Government Service Minister Stuart Robert said if an iPhone is in low-power mode it reduces background app refresh, which may impact the app’s ability to track contacts.
Chief Information Officer at the Department of Health, Daniel Keys, said the government was working with Apple and Google to improve the app’s performance and to make sure it could run efficiently in the background.
He said if the app slips too far into the background it may experience problems and need to be refreshed.
“We know the performance [of the app] is better if it comes to the foreground of all the apps that you’re running,” he said.
“So there is a reminder in there [push notification] to allow people to refresh the app status.”
It has also been suggested the iPhone app may have some problems if too many other Bluetooth apps are running on your phone.
This is because Apple’s iOS rules typically prevent third-party apps from running in the background and broadcasting Bluetooth signals.
This privacy measure is in place to stop users being tracked without consent.
Mr Keys confirmed the app could have some issues if you’re running other apps that also use Bluetooth and location tracking.
“It is dependent on the phone, the settings on the phone, the battery of the phone and the power of the phone,” he said.
“What we see is that the more things you have open, the more interference is possible within the signals of the Bluetooth and the reduction in the Bluetooth strength, which also affects accuracy.”
Some iPhone users have received messages from the app to keep the Bluetooth switch on and to have the app open in power saver mode while in meetings, public spaces, or on public transport.
What do I do if it won’t work in my location?
If you are an expat with an international number or if the location settings on your device are set to somewhere other than Australia, you may experience some difficulties getting the app.
To download the app your phone location must be set to Australia.
Mr Hunt said the government is mainly focused on people in Australia getting the app, so if you’re overseas it is not vital that you use it.
“We have been focusing on people in Australia, with an Australian base,” he said.
“We have set up a voluntary system and we have looked to make sure that privacy was above all else the paramount goal.”
A number of Android and iPhone users have reported their mobile number isn’t being accepted and they receive an error message that the number is invalid.
In reviews on the app stores, users say after several attempts it seems the app will eventually accept the number or that the problem occurred just after the app launched and has now been fixed.
Will it drain my battery?
All apps on a smartphone device cut into your battery life, but those that use Bluetooth can cause it to drain a little faster than normal.
Apple and Android users are advised to switch their phones to low power mode or to turn off background app activity to save battery life, however this could stop the COVIDSafe app from running efficiently.
Instead, users can optimise their settings by turning their screen brightness down or connecting to WiFi where possible.
Mr Keys said COVIDSafe won’t drain your battery any more than other apps that also use Bluetooth.
“If you’re already running Bluetooth it only uses marginally more battery life then any other apps,” he said.
“If you’re already using it, it’s only a marginal increase on the battery drain of the phone, and if you’re not it’s obviously equivalent to an application that uses Bluetooth, or an equivalent application such as Spotify or something that connects to your car.”
How many people have downloaded it so far?
A lot — far more that the federal government expected so soon after its release at 6:00pm AEST on Sunday.
As of 4:00pm Monday, about 1.89 million Australians had already downloaded the app.
Earlier today, Health Minister Greg Hunt said it was hoped the number of downloads would reach a million within five days.
“We were lucky to get there within five hours,” he said.
“Australians, just as they have done throughout the course of the virus, have responded magnificently.”
The government has previously said 40 per cent of Australians — or 10 million people — would need to take up the app for it be a success.
So what happens next?
The app speeds up the current manual process of finding people who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19.
If you are exposed to a positive case, your state or territory health officials will access the data on the app and call you to let you know.
You may be told to get tested or go into quarantine.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said it will speed up the contract-tracing process by several days.
“For someone with many contacts, it could take many hours, even days, to find out who they were, and then to chase them down, find out their contact information,” he said.
“What this will do is give a list of the mobile phone numbers of those people who have been in contact within that distance for 15 minutes or more.
“That could lead to someone being contacted a day or two earlier than they otherwise may have been.”
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