COVIDSAFE and Stalkers

People who are at risk of family violence from family members who are attempting to stalk or control are expressing concerns about downloading the COVIDSAFE app that the government released on the 26th April 2020.

What is the purpose of the app?

The purpose of the app is to make proximity tracing easier.  Due to the contagous nature of the COVID-19 Virus for Australia to lift the restrictions on business and travel the government wants a way to quickly identify and trace people who have been in contact with someone who is identified with the virus.

How does it work?

The app needs to be downloaded onto your smart phone.

Once it is downloaded you need to keep your bluetooth working on the phone.

If you come close (less than 1.5 metres) to someone who has the app for 15 minutes or more the apps will communicate with each other and share your names, phone numbers and when the exchange happened.  The other information that users put into the app is their postcode and email address.

 
It doesn’t use GPS and doesn’t record the location where the apps interacted. 
 
If one of you is later identified as having COVID-19 the data will be downloaded from the phone and the people who you have been in contact with will be contacted so they know and can get tested.

Who can access the information?

Who should be able to access the information is people from the Department of Health to make the follow up calls. 
 
According to some sources such as WESNET which is a peak body for esafety related service providers for women who are victims of family and domestic violence there may be vulnerabilities in the software that would allow a technologically capable stalker to access the information.
 
 
They indicate that the data on who you have met (names, email and phone numbers) is not encrypted sufficiently on the phone and while not available to users of the app in its design someone with moderate to advanced technological skills may be able to access the data.
 
They indicate as well that it is possible that spyware already stored on your phone may be able to access it.
 

So what should you do?

That is up to you as it depends on your circumstances.

 

  • if you are not in a situation where someone is likely to be trying to access information about who you meet with then there is a very low risk of the information being stolen from your phone.
  • If you are confident that there is no spyware on your phone and / or no one else will have the opportunity to access it to instal software or download data then you have a low risk.
  • If you are living with someone or in a separated relationship with someone who may be prone to stalking you and you would be at risk if they know who you are meeting with consider getting help for the family violence. Them accessing your app may be the least of your problems but in the interim it may be a consideration regarding whether to get the app or not.

What does the Government say?

The official government website with information about the COVIDSAFE App is https://www.health.gov.au/resources/apps-and-tools/covidsafe-app
 
If you are being controlled, followed, hurt or threatened by someone seek help.  1800 Respect  1800 737 732 or their website is a good place to start https://www.1800respect.org.au/
 
Don’t be discouraged by media reports on getting help if you are being abused in your home. Reach out for help and keep reaching out until you are safe. 
 
 
 
 
 

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