Labor calls Australia's COVIDSafe app a 'turkey' on anniversary of controversial app

A year since it was launched, COVIDSafe has only found 17 cases.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor on

A year ago to the day, the Australian government went live with its coronavirus contact tracing app, COVIDSafe.

To date, the app has only accounted for a total of 17 cases foundwith 81 close contacts of those 17 identified through the app, too. Those 17 cases were all in New South Wales.

As previously disclosed by the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), the app cost in excess of AU$5 million. DTA CEO Randall Brugeaud told senators during Estimates last month that the cost to keep the app's lights on, so far, has been around AU$900,000.

"The spend to date on the app is AU$6,745,322.31, that's to 31 January," he said.

"That includes a combination of development, which is the actual build of the app, and the hosting of the app. So the breakdown is, for the development of the app, AU$5,844,182.51 and the hosting is AU$901,139.80."

Former Opposition Leader and now Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten questioned how much longer money would be spent on keeping the app active.

"Their app is a turkey," he said at the weekend.

"When is the government going to stop throwing good money after bad on an app that has tracked only 17 COVID cases, at a cost of almost AU$1 million a case?

"You'd be better off using a lucky rabbit's foot to fight the virus."

COVIDSafe was sold as a "digital sunscreen" with people encouraged by the Prime Minister to download the app to have life return to some form of normality.

There have been over 7 million downloads of the app, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's logged into or being used by individuals that have the app, taking up real estate on their phone. Reports indicate only 3% of those who tested positive for COVID-19 had downloaded the app.

Victoria admitted it wasn't using the app and Queensland's Health Minister Dr Steven Miles previously referred to it as "useless".

The app was plagued by issues from day one, from registration blunders to concerns over the practicality of the app on iPhones and the potential for international law enforcement to access the data.

The DTA said in May that 179 functional tests were conducted for the Apple iOS and Google Android versions of the COVIDSafe app prior to release and those requirements were met.

In June, however, it was revealed the DTA knew COVIDSafe had severe flaws, despite the app being sent out for public use. The revelation followed research that showed locked iPhones were practically useless when it came to logging encounters through COVIDSafe.

An update to COVIDSafe app was pushed out later that month, but Australia's tech community said that instead of a rework, the whole app should have been scrapped and replaced with the Apple/Google Exposure Notification Framework.


Editorial standards