Even Australia’s COVID-19 Committee Reckons the COVIDSafe App is Useless

Even Australia’s COVID-19 Committee Reckons the COVIDSafe App is Useless

Back in October, we reported the federal government had spent a whopping $9.1 million on its COVIDSafe app. At the time, with still no shift since, the COVIDSafe app once labelled ‘digital sunscreen’ by our Prime Minister, had found basically no cases of COVID-19 and done nothing but drain the batteries of those who had installed it.

Well, in a report handed down this week, a Senate Select Committee has said enough is enough. The committee wants to end funding for the practically useless COVIDSafe app.

“The committee recommends that the Australian government cease any further expenditure of public funds on the failed COVIDSafe application,” the Select Committee on COVID-19 says in its final report.

As of October 4, $9.1 million had been spent, in total, on the COVIDSafe app that launched in April 2020. That cost included around $2.7 million given to Amazon Web Services to host the darn thing. The remainder of cash was spent on “a series of capabilities that have been used from the market, ranging from the use of strategy services, development services and also legal services”. Whatever that actually means.

That paragraph was lifted from the article we published in October. There was no update provided in the committee’s final report.

report into the troubled app was published in July. It said only 17 unique detections had been found through the COVIDSafe app. But the government would like you to hear its statistic: that COVIDSafe helped with 37,500 potential encounters.

It’s worth noting, however, those 17 contacts were found in NSW and it was before the wrath of Delta, let alone Omicron. Yesterday, there was 15,500 cases of COVID-19 in NSW – the COVIDSafe app is responsible for finding zilch and the committee is aware.

“When the government was asked to provide an update on how many additional contacts the COVIDSafe app had identified, it failed to do so, and claimed the states and territories were responsible for reporting the number of cases identified,” the report notes.

“The future use of the COVIDSafe app appears uncertain, in no small part due to states having reportedly given up on using the app.”

The report continues by noting that in September 2021, officials told the committee that the app would not be used to support a national app for unified access to digital vaccine certificates due to concerns about the interoperability of the COVIDSafe app with check-in apps used by the states and territories.

In October 2021, government officials suggested there was no intention to update the COVIDSafe app, but money was still going to be poured into it to keep the lights on.

I’ll leave you with final thoughts from the committee:

The Minister for Health has sought to defend the value of the app, telling Parliament that ‘any single case can lead to many others. So it’s played an important role’.

By not recognising the app’s faults, or seeking to fix the app, the government has continued to oversee an application which is not fit for its intended purpose, has cost millions of dollars, and offered limited public value.