COVIDSafe feedback process changes as app moves into business as usual mode

As a heavily redacted report into the app's effectiveness says COVIDSafe was the right choice to make, the DTA takes feedback option off GitHub.

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Health Minister Greg Hunt launching the COVIDSafe app on 26 April 2020.

Image: Getty Images

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has changed the way feedback is provided for the country's COVIDSafe app, as the issue-plagued app moves to "business as usual" mode.

As highlighted by software developer Geoffrey Huntley on Twitter, the DTA has disabled the ability to collaborate on GitHub.

"This removes a huge wealth of information, history and discussion around decisions made, bugs that were fixed etc. @DTA surely this is a mistake?"

But according to the DTA, it was not a mistake.

"As part of the COVIDSafe app's transition to 'business as usual mode', we have streamlined the channels for support and engagement with the community," a spokesperson told ZDNet.

"Feedback and support channels for the COVIDSafe app remain open via support@covidsafe.gov.au, we welcome input from the tech community.

"The process for reporting security concerns remains unchanged and is published on GitHub."

The reason for posting on GitHub was previously touted by the agency as enabling the tech community an opportunity to provide feedback.

See also: A Bluetooth revamp touted to fix Australia's COVIDSafe app connectivity flaws

After pinning the cost of keeping the COVIDSafe app running at AU$100,000 a month in March, former DTA CEO Randall Brugeaud in May almost halved the previous estimate.

"I estimated AU$100,000 per month to host COVIDSafe at the last hearing, that has ended up at AU$75,094.98 per month. And we've made a number of performance improvements to the app over the last couple of months, which should see that sitting at about AU$60,000 per month from the first of July," he said at the time.

The total cost to build and operate the app as of May was AU$7,753,863.38, including GST. To the end of January, that figure was AU$6,745,322.31, which Brugeaud said comprised around AU$5,844,182.51 for the app's development and AU$901,139.80 for hosting.

Earlier this week, the Department of Health released freedom of information documents requested by the Canberra Times pertaining to the evaluation of the operation and effectiveness of COVIDSafe and the National COVIDSafe Datastore.

The final report is meant to provide information on the app's appropriateness, implementation, and efficiency.

In May, the DTA said the app had picked up 567 close contacts not found through my manual contact tracing, a large increase on the previous number of 17 contacts, and that there had been 779 uploads to the National Data Store since inception last year.

Whole paragraphs that discuss the effectiveness of the app in New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria are missing from the report, however.

The heavily redacted document does however provide the finding that the app touted by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as digital sunscreen was the "correct tool" to implement.

"As our technology review indicates, based on the parameters of knowledge and capabilities at the time of app launch, it is believed that the COVIDSafe app was the correct tool to employ," the report says. "Many of the international contact tracing apps, such as Singapore's TraceTogether, utilised BLE to capture digital 'handshakes' between mobile devices."

As of 9pm AEST 22 July 2021, there were around 1,700 active cases of COVID-19 in Australia, with most of the country remaining under strict lockdown orders.

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