Since it was released, I have had several people ask me about the COVIDSafe app - about whether to download it, and about the varying news reports of how it works and what WE have to do on our devices to make it work.
If you are confused, you are not alone. I am finding the reports confusing too.
I do believe we should all download and use it
Before I go on, I will say that I do think that we should all download it - that it will certainly enhance the contact tracing exercise if a large number of people have it installed and operating correctly.
When I first downloaded COVIDSafe on day 1, and read the instructions that it provided, I thought that I just had install and leave it running in background for the app to work, leaving my Bluetooth on at all times. Here's what the apps FAQ says:
"To be effective, COVIDSafe should be active on your phone whenever you are coming into contact with people. You will receive daily notifications to ensure the app is active."
Even the main screen of the app says COVIDSafe is active. There's nothing else you need to do, except to leave the app running and keep Bluetooth on.
To me this 'ensure the app is active' and 'leave the app running' means, in iPhone terms, not 'swiping it up' from the app switching screen (which is what you normally do to 'close' an app).
I also made sure I left 'Background App Refresh' turned on in Settings -> General (a setting I usually turn off unless it is absolutely required by an app).
Surely I had done everything required to 'leave it active/running' (?).
But what does 'ensure the app is active' mean?
But now I am very confused!
In a several online news articles at the end of the first week of the app's availability, it was been reported that the COVIDSafe app has to be active on an iPhone with the screen on to work properly.
So, does this just mean that the iPhone has to be unlocked and the app running in background? Or does it mean that I have to walk around with the app front and centre on my screen, and the 'autolock' turned off so that the iPhone doesn't go to sleep? Am I allowed to be using another app on my iPhone when I am in close contact with someone?
If my phone is not allowed to be locked, how then do I put my phone in my bag or pocket while I am out? I will be at serious risk of pocket dialling someone!
It's really not very clear at the moment.
Apple and Google are working to make contact tracing apps work better
Apple and Google are reported to be currently fast-tracking some changes to their mobile operating systems, to allow apps like COVIDSafe to work even when the app is not currently on the screen and when the screen is locked. For iPhones, these changes will released in an upcoming version of the iPhone operating system (iOS 13.5).
Once the changes from Apple and Google are available, the COVIDSafe app will then be able to be modified to allow tracing to continue even if the phone is locked or other apps are in use.
However, my reading is that any change to the COVIDSafe app to apply the new Google and Apple capabilities may not work on older devices running iOS 12, 11 or 10 - including iPhone 6 and 5-series, which are still used by many people I know. (Note. COVIDSafe can't be downloaded at all to devices that run iOS 9 or earlier.)
Not fully operational yet
At the moment, downloads by around 4 million people (as at 3/5) may not mean that much if, for a large number of these people (iPhone users), the app only has the capability to record close contacts at times when the screen is on.
Additionally, it seems from reports that your screen must be on for the 15 minutes that you are within 1.5 metres of another person for that 'contact' to be recorded by the app. I wonder how often that would be the case, so how much data will actually be collected by our iPhones. This is not clear.
At the time of writing this article, the data that our phones collect cannot yet be provided to any health officials even if we do test positive - as work continues on finalising the rules on privacy, how the system will operate, and training of health officials in its use.
Installed and 'ready to go' for relaxation of lockdown
So while I am happy to be running the COVIDSafe app even now, and think that we should have it 'ready to go' for the relaxation of lockdown restrictions, I'm not sure I'll be very successful at keeping my device unlocked and the app on the screen whenever I am out.
I hope this requirement will change in the near future.
Warning for users of diabetes monitoring devices
And for anyone that has a diabetes monitoring device and app, check out the article below about a potential clash between that app and the COVIDSafe app. The recommendation is to, for now, uninstall the COVIDSafe app if you have such a device that is impacted - although I would think it best to consult with your doctor about this first.
Here are some recent articles about the COVIDSafe app:
I'll certainly be staying tuned for further updates on this one - and, hopefully, further clarification of the confusing messages that we have been receiving about it.
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