COVIDsafe has been out for almost two weeks and among the bugs, iOS bluetooth issues and general confusion the app has suffered from a digital inclusion problem. Some rural Australians and those living in mobile blackspots have had issues installing it and the app is only compatible with newer phones and. And despite calling ourselves a multicultural nation, it is also only available in English.
2016 Census data shows 21 per cent of Australians speak more than one language at home. 820,000 Australians also reported to not speak English well.
Out of the 300 languages reported to be spoken in home across Australia, the most commonly spoken after English is Mandarin at 2.5 per cent, followed by Arabic at 1.4 per cent.
Making COVIDSafe available in other languages isn’t just about digital inclusion, but potential the health and well being of all Australians.
“We’ve seen in the UK and the US multicultural communities… are disproportionately represented in the coronavirus cases and also the mortality rate,” said Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) CEO Mohammad Al-Khafaji to SBS News.
“We think our communities will be greatly affected if there was any outbreak “¦ we want to make sure those people are notified straight away.”
Mr Al-Khafaji also stated to SBS News that the government needs to work with multicultural communities to better explain the app and help alleviate possible privacy concerns.
“The rationale behind this – needs to also be explained in all these other languages,” said Al-Khafaji.
This week Telstra finally began rolling out SMS Over Wifi. This service, which Optus and Vodafone already offered to customers, allows SMS to be received by a user even when they don't have mobile connectivity at the time. This is incredibly important for Australians in rural areas or those living in a mobile blackspot.Read more
The acting minister of immigration, Alan Tudge told SBS on April 27 that the translation of COVIDsafe was being looked into into, but no timeline seems to have been given. Almost two weeks later there is still no further information available.
“At this stage the App is not available in multiple languages. Information on the App is available in 63 languages and can be accessed at [The Department of Home Affairs], said a spokesperson for minister Tudge in an email to Gizmodo Australia this week.
We also asked the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) if and when COVIDSafe would be translates into other languages. “The Department of Health is best placed to answer these questions,” a DTA spokesperson said to Gizmodo Australia in an email.
The Department of Health did not respond to our questions.
Shadow assistant minister for communications & cybersecurity, Tim Watts, says that COVIDsafe will be more effective if more Australians are able to use it.
“English language capability could well be an obstacle for some people using the app and the government ought to be thinking about how this could be overcome,” said minister Watts in an email to Gizmodo Australia.
“The work of groups like the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia have been invaluable throughout this crisis in raising this issue and providing access to translated material on COVID-19 directly to people of non-English speaking backgrounds. The Government should listen and learn from its experience.”
Minister Watts also pointed out the issue of COVIDSafe not being available on international versions of the App Store and Google Play.
“The government should similarly be considering whether the app needs to be accessible to people living in our community who are not using Australian app stores and how this technological obstacle could be overcome.”
There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the government's coronavirus tracing app, COVIDSafe, but at the forefront has been issues of privacy and its ability to work properly on devices. With the federal government tying the easing of social restrictions to app downloads, developers have reverse engineered the app to find out what's actually wrong with it. Here's what they've found.Read more