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Aussie Tracing App: US Giants Google, Apple Hold The Key

CANBERRA/LONDON/PARIS: The Australian Government’s planned coronavirus tracing app is coming under intense scrutiny from US tech giants Apple and Google, which came up with the concept, and the app will have to be approved by them before it’s implemented.

The iPhone maker and the US search giant are currently at loggerheads with the British and French governments over their plans for similar apps. They are refusing to allow those nations to use the apps on their systems because they don’t comply with the US tech companies’ rules. 

France is pressing Apple to let its coronavirus contract-tracing app work in the background on iPhones without building in privacy measures that the US company wants. In the UK, Apple and Google are also in a standoff with the National Health Service over its app, as it requires similar background operation.

Google and Apple are encouraging countries to build contact-tracing apps that operate in a decentralised way, allowing individuals to know when they’ve been in contact with an infected person, but preventing governments from using that data to collect information on population movements.

The Australian Government says that is how its tracing app will work, because it will be similar to Singapore’s. But Canberra hasn’t spelt out its downsides. To work, the app will have to remain active and on-screen, limiting what users could do with their handsets and at the same time using valuable battery life. That’s because Apple will not allow Bluetooth-based track-and-tracing to be carried out in the background.

The Australian tracing app is being developed by the Federal Government, apparently with input from the CSIRO, but it will only be distributed if it meets the stringent requirements of Google and Apple.

As it happens, Google and Apple have been under scrutiny over their tax practices and alleged failure to pay Australian media publishers for original content they use to boost ad revenue.

Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said more details about the app will be published next week and, despite the initial backlash, he is confident it will get up. 

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