COVIDSafe now has improved notifications and supports 2 new languages

22 August 2020

The latest update to COVIDSafe provides improved notifications and allows users to use the app in Turkish and Punjabi.

Since launch, the DTA—with the support of users and the tech community—has made iterative enhancements to the app focusing on performance, privacy and accessibility.

The Australian community can have confidence that their privacy and security is protected, and we encourage all Australians to download and use, or upgrade the app to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

COVIDSafe is an important tool that supports the meticulous and dedicated work of Australia’s manual contact tracers. We know it works. It has been used to quickly find and notify close contacts that were unknown to the person who tested positive.

COVIDSafe is now available in Turkish and Punjabi, in addition to Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Italian, Korean, Mandarin and Vietnamese. This provides over two million Australians with better usability and experience of the app.

In this release, we have improved notifications to alert users to any matters requiring their attentions, including availability of new versions of the app.

As with all other releases, we have made the source code available for review.

Update details

Android location permissions

COVIDSafe has been built with security and privacy by design. COVIDSafe does not track a user’s location and recent media reporting to that effect is incorrect.

COVIDSafe has been subject to some of the most stringent privacy requirements applied to a government service. It is against the law for COVIDSafe to collect location data from individuals. The source code and reviews from independent security, academic and technical advisers have confirmed that it does not collect location information.

Working with the tech community, the DTA continues to update the app to resolve issues and improve Bluetooth performance. One such improvement in the most recent update changed the level of location permission requested to use Bluetooth on Android devices.

In an earlier update to the Android operating system, Google introduced changes to how it handles location permissions as a privacy improvement. These changes mean that apps such as COVIDSafe must declare the type of location permission (‘fine’ or ‘coarse’) they use.

The activation of Location Services and Bluetooth Services have been bundled together and, as a result, a permission request is presented to a user to activate Location Services. This applies to COVIDSafe, even though it does not use Bluetooth to gather any sort of location and the Location Services feature on Android devices is not used.

COVIDSafe users with an Android device can have confidence that their privacy is protected and no location data is being accessed and should grant location permissions to access Bluetooth for the COVIDSafe app.

Improved notifications to assist users to troubleshoot issues

This release continues to improve notification services to help ensure the app is working effectively.

This includes notifications that advise users when there is a new version of the app and prompt them to update. When users have the latest version of the app they benefit from the newest improvements.

The improved notifications will also help users troubleshoot the app to quickly diagnose and fix performance issues that may arise from permissions settings such as Bluetooth and battery optimisation. 

Turkish and Punjabi Translations

COVIDSafe is now available in Turkish and Punjabi. This is in addition to the 7 translations introduced in previous releases: Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Italian, Korean, Mandarin and Vietnamese. These languages represent nine of the most spoken languages in Australia other than English.

We have also simplified the selection of language in the app. If your device is set to any of the supported languages, the app will automatically translate into your selected language. The “change language option” in the app links users to a help topic with further guidance on this process.

The COVIDSafe website now also includes help topics in Turkish and Punjabi, as well as the other translated languages. Users can access these translated help topics directly from the app.

The COVIDSafe user guide has also been translated into 63 languages. The user guide provides information on downloading and registering COVIDSafe, and how to make sure it is working correctly.

Privacy Improvements

We have again strengthened privacy aspects of the app, working with the technology community on several fixes.

We have provided improved guidance and made it easier for Android users to change the name of their device, which is visible when using Bluetooth, from within the COVIDSafe app. This is a privacy enhancement for users. COVIDSafe does not collect the device name.

We have improved our encryption so that old information cannot be reused by a malicious actor.

COVIDSafe is a system

COVIDSafe is a combination of the COVIDSafe app that users have installed on their mobile device and the Health Portal that State and Territory health officials (contact tracers) use to identify close contacts.

While there has been much focus on the app and iOS Bluetooth performance, we have also made a range of significant changes across the whole COVIDSafe ecosystem to enhance the contact tracing process.

This includes improvements to the system that state and territory health officials use to undertake contact tracing, such as making it easier for health officials to interpret uploaded data, and quickly find close contacts. The app and system components are working together to improve the overall performance of COVIDSafe, and are a distinguishing feature of the COVIDSafe system.

The Australian community can have confidence the app is working securely and effectively.

Source code update and next release

We have updated the publicly available application source code in line with today’s release. To make sure continue to engage with the technology community, people can provide direct feedback within the source code repository.

We are currently working on the next update to the COVIDSafe app, which we plan to release in a couple of weeks.

Visit the COVIDSafe website for more information or to access the application source code.

For media enquiries email us at media@dta.gov.au or call 0438 156 883

For other enquiries email us at info@dta.gov.au