Government services minister Stuart Robert has argued Apple and Google are intruding on the sovereignty of nations like Australia by not giving them more control over the exposure notification system in their contact tracing technology.
In a strange and confusing defence given to the app in an interview on Sky News after his National Press Club address on Tuesday, Robert didn’t say whether the app had identified any close contacts yet (and Victorian CHO Brett Sutton indicated today it hadn’t) but argued it was a success, albeit with small issues.
This is how he explained the ongoing issues with the iPhone version of the app:
“The challenge is we’re using the ubiquitous nature of the software and the hardware. So an Apple and a Google phone. So the IOS, Internet operating system [sic] of Apple, the native Bluetooth is what we call a moderate effectiveness. So effectiveness is about 50 percent of the time when it’s locked in the background, speaking to another locked phone in the background, and it varies based on software build, based on handset. So they are the challenges. We’re working with Apple to improve that.”
Then when asked whether the government would move to the Google-Apple exposure notification framework that would largely resolve these issues, Robert said Google and Apple have a “moral responsibility to ensure that signal strength is also provided to all sovereign nations who’ve chosen a sovereign app locked in with their public health officials.”
It is unclear what that means but from what I can determine, the government isn’t happy that Apple and Google determine how many times beacons are sent out looking for new contacts (five minutes versus one minute on Covidsafe), and that under the Apple-Google version, if governments do something outside of the app’s agreed use (like continuing to use it after the pandemic, or changing what is tracked) they have the power to switch off that country’s access to the app.
That’s a good thing for users and their privacy, but obviously the federal government isn’t happy with that.