COVIDSafe Herald update hits app stores as researchers point out unfixed regressions

With New South Wales seeing a spike in cases, the government is pushing for COVIDSafe app use again.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Over the weekend as the Sydney's Northern Beaches went back into lockdown over a coronavirus cluster, the Australian government once again called on citizens to use its so-called digital sunscreen.

Last month, the government said the app was recording excellent performance thanks to using an updated Bluetooth protocol dubbed Herald.

"The protocol provides for excellent performance of all encounter logging under all phone conditions and will continue to work on more than 96% of Apple and Android phones," Health Minister Greg Hunt and Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert said at the time.

The same duo was back at it over the weekend, as the Herald update hit the Apple and Google app stores.

"Recent cases of COVID-19 in our community are a stark reminder the pandemic is not over and Australians must remain vigilant and be COVIDSafe," Hunt said.

"New South Wales contact tracers are using the COVIDSafe App as one of their tools to search for close contacts during the current Northern Beaches outbreak.

"Our public health official contact tracing teams are world-leading and are ready to manage any cases that may occur, however, the best way to ensure you and your family are protected is to remember to practise good hygiene, physical distancing, get tested, isolate if you need to and download, register and update the COVIDSafe App."

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On Friday during an update on the Northern Beaches cluster, digital venue check-in systems were said to be helping contact tracers track the outbreak. NSW representatives did not mention the COVIDSafe app.

The new release prompted Jim Mussared -- who has pointed out technical problems with COVIDSafe from the get go -- to state the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has not responded to concerns raised before the update was pushed.

"So far we've seen a bunch of old bugs re-introduced, plus some new ones. Hope they can fix before the app store freeze," he wrote on Monday.

"Our analysis found a few reasons why the Herald changes will be less efficient compared to 'COVIDSafe Classic'. The DTA has refused to respond to any of the requests for evidence for their claims.

For an app that has cost millions to create and just shy of AU$7 million to promote, Mussared gets the government was not above asking for free labour.

"They even attempted to reach out to a few of us privately asking for free help on a different issue (with apparently no sense of irony). We provided (in great detail, including code snippets) and then they still managed to not fix the bug," he said.

"I raised another serious security issue last night, and so far nobody is replying to their security contact."

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