Monday, 20 April 2020


There's as stoush going on at the moment about the (Australian) government's proposed contact tracing app, which I'll call Track'n'Trace or TnT for short.

Now, I've been retired for four years so I don't normally comment on technical stuff any more, except on rare occasions, as I'm out of the loop.

When the app was first announced my original thought was 'bugger that'.

Having worked in Canberra I don't have a high opinion of some of the government's IT initiatives - over specified and under resourced, and at the mercy of the electoral cycle.

My objections are twofold - one as the Annika Smethurst case has shown, there are parts of the government that want to increase snooping on citizens, and two, access to the data and the abuse by some of the police of the special powers granted under the lockdown regulations.

As J falls into the 'at risk' category due to a chronic health problem I have absolutely zero intention of breaching the lockdown regulations, and if anything we've been more careful than necessary with me usually doing the mailbox and supermarket run alone. However what I do not want to do is be dobbed in by my phone if I inadvertently get too close while queuing.

I've now changed my mind on this.

The government has said that they'll now put the code out there for public review and publish their own security audit. This of course doesn't stop them misusing the data, but if they publish their protocols around the data and its use that's probably good enough.

The other thing is that as Scott McNeally is once said "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it."

Apple and Google to name but two, routinely capture location data - how else do you think applications such as Google Timeline work - and this data has been used to show the reduced amount of commuting going on. 

Shopping centres, department stores with their free wi-fi, all know about you and when you visit.

Phone companies can find your approximate location on the basis of which cellphone tower you're using, and can, in busy areas use triangulation to work out a rough location. 

Now the government has said that the application won't have a geolocation capability, but it does record your phone number.

I'm sure that geolocation or no geolocation capability these clever people at the Signals Directorate can match up the data if they really want to, and to be honest, unless you're suspected of nefarious activities they probably don't want to and don't have the time or inclination. 

A degree of paranoia and mistrust is sensible, but if you use any location based service you can be tracked anyway, what's the difference?

So I've swung 180 degrees on this. Yes, with appropriate safeguards I'll use the TnT app, and yes, the moment the lockdown restrictions are ended I'll delete it.

I don't totally trust the government over it, but balancing the risks versus the benefits, the benefits probably come out a little bit ahead on this one ...


There's two relevant articles on the web this afternoon, one (unfortunately paywalled) from New Scientist on the Oxford TnT adoption study, and one from the Irish Times on the French app and their controversy around its rollout

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