Google extends COVID Card vaccination certificate to Australia

When asked about the concerns with Google storing vaccination information potentially overseas, Services Australia said use of the COVID Card was optional.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor
Image: Google

Google last week announced extending its COVID Card feature to Australia, allowing Android users to access vaccination information on their device.

Google said it worked with Services Australia to give "a convenient and secure way to view, save, and show your vaccination status and information, straight from your smartphone".

The information will show in the vaccination passport once a second dose has been administered.

According to Google, vaccine information is only stored on the user's device and not stored by Google.  

However, when adding the certificate to Google Pay, users are prompted to confirm they agree to their data being stored offshore.

"If you add your COVID-19 digital certificate to Google Pay, others with access to this device will be able to view the certificate. It's your responsibility to keep your certificate secure," the prompt says.

"By selecting 'Accept', you provide consent for the Australian government to share the information contained in your COVID-19 digital certificate with Google for Google Pay who will store it on servers outside of Australia.

"A copy of your certificate may also be stored on servers outside of Australia if you have other cloud applications stored on your device to backup your data."

When asked about the storing of data offshore, Services Australia said the COVID-19 digital certificate would be entirely optional for Australians.

"Once provided to the individual, it is their choice as to how they use and store it," a spokesperson for Minister Linda Reynolds told ZDNet. "This includes accessing the certificate via government apps, or downloading it to their phone, or storing it in their digital wallet."

The spokesperson confirmed the certificate was accessible without using the digital wallet storage option.

"We know Australians are increasingly using digital wallets so people can choose to store their certificate in this way, if it suits them," they continued. "Users are informed that the Apple or Google digital wallet utilises offshore storage before agreeing to use the service."

In its Secure Cloud Strategy, the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) said entities operating in Australia must comply with Australian Privacy Principles (APP) when storing data on Australians.

"The Privacy Act does not prevent an Australian Privacy Principle (APP) entity from engaging a cloud service provider to store or process personal information overseas. The APP entity must comply with the APPs in sending personal information to the overseas cloud service provider, just as they need to for any other overseas outsourcing arrangement," it said.

When asked if it had any concerns with the certificate information being stored offshore, the DTA said it was a question for Services Australia.

Google is also yet to return a comment.

Users can access their vaccination certificate via the Express Plus Medicare app or via the Medicare portal of the MyGov website, with the option to select "view your COVID-19 digital certificate" and "Save to Phone" to do just that.

"For added convenience, you can access your vaccine information even when you're offline, which means you do not need mobile or Wi-Fi connection," Google added. "If you have the Google Pay app on your Android phone, you can also access the certificate from the same place where you access your other cards and other passes."

Every time a user accesses their certificate, they will be asked for the password, PIN, or biometric method that has been set up.

As of 9pm AEST 8 August 2021, there were just over 4,700 active cases of COVID-19 in Australia, with a total of 36,330 cases since January 2020. Stay-at-home orders continue to be in place around the country, with a majority of the population of New South Wales under lockdown since June 25.

In a bid to speed up the process of checking into venues and managing check-in history, the NSW government on Monday announced a new COVID-19 check-in card, as well as updates to the Service NSW app.

Minister for Digital and Customer Service Victor Dominello said customers would soon be able to register for a COVID-19 check-in card which they could present to supermarkets and other essential retail businesses to scan as a faster and safer way to complete the self-service webform check-in or paper sign-in currently used by customers without a smartphone.

Customers can download and print their COVID-19 check-in card or have a plastic card mailed to them. Their contact details will be  stored within the QR code, which will prepopulate the webform when scanned by the business. 

As the Service NSW app gives users the option for face biometrics to be used when logging in -- a task made difficult with mandatory mask requirements -- the government has also extended the log-in period to four hours.   


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