FactCheck Social Media

COVIDsafe app location detection post is a hoax message, says Department of Health

2020-04-29 18:18:21

The Statement

A screenshot claiming to show a location warning message generated by Australia’s new COVIDSafe app is circulating on Facebook followng the federal government’s launch of the coronavirus tracking tool.

The April 27 post displays a text that reads: “The COVIDsafe App has detected you are now +20km from your nominated home address. Please register your reason for travel by calling 1300 1MY GOV (+61 1300 169 468) within 15 minutes of receiving this SMS (10:12am AEST Monday 27 April 2020). Thank you.”

The post’s caption says: “So this is the real reason they want the corona app (sic) out to control us.”

AAP FactCheck found eight examples of the image posted to Facebook, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. In total the posts have been viewed over 250,000 times and received more than 1100 shares and 500 interactions.

A Facebook post from April 27
 A post claiming to show a text message from the new COVIDSafe app is gaining traction on Facebook. 

The Analysis

Australia’s states and territories will consider easing COVID-19 restrictions next month after a drop in the rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Amid the good news, an image claiming to be from the federal government’s new COVIDsafe app is being widely shared on Facebook.

The COVIDsafe app is designed to help health officials identify people who have come into contact with somebody infected with COVID-19, according to the app’s website. Since its launch on April 26 the voluntary app has been downloaded almost three million times as of April 29, with the government expecting more than half the population to eventually become users.

The April 27 post purports to show a text message linked to or generated by the COVIDsafe app, with the image reading: “The COVIDsafe App has detected you are now +20km from your nominated home address. Please register your reason for travel by calling 1300 1MY GOV (+61 1300 169 468) within 15 minutes of receiving this SMS (10:12am AEST Monday 27 April 2020). Thank you.”

The Department of Health, who are responsible for maintaining the app, told AAP FactCheck in an email the Facebook post is “a hoax message” and that it was “abhorrent scammers would attempt to use the COVIDSafe app, a public health tool, to try and catch out Australians”.

“The COVIDsafe app doesn’t have any geolocation capability, it does not track your location, only the proximity of your phone to other people’s phones that have downloaded the app and cannot monitor a person’s location at any time,” a department spokesperson said.

Experts at the University of Sydney have also stated the app cannot track location.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) told AAP FactCheck in an email they are investigating the message. “The AFP is aware of an alleged hoax involving the COVIDSafe app and is currently investigating the matter,” a spokesperson said.

Politicians and doctors have come out in support of the app and encouraged Australians to use it so the federal government can wind back restrictions on movement. During an April 26 press conference the Australian chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, said he would be using the app. “No Australian should have any concerns about downloading this app” he said.

Not all have been in support of the app, with some federal politicians and privacy groups expressing concern.

One IT expert has stated that the app delivered on the government’s promises about data security, while another has pointed to potential, albeit low-likelihood  vulnerabilities via bluetooth connection. The Department of Health told AAP FactCheck the app doesn’t register a person’s home address and doesn’t share information unless authorised by the user. Only state and territory health officials are involved in using the app for contact tracing, a department spokesperson said.

COVIDSafe coronavirus tracing app
 The federal government’s voluntary coronavirus tracing app ‘COVIDSafe’ does not track your location. 

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the claims in the Facebook post to be false. A federal Department of Health spoksperson and experts at the University of Sydney have said the COVIDsafe app does not trace the location of a user. The post has been described by the Department of Health as a hoax and the Australian Federal Police said they are investigating the message.

False – The primary claims of the content are factually inaccurate or misleading.

* AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/