COVIDSafe app update fixes ‘handshakes’ working only 27% of the time on some iPhones

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Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), the makers of the COVIDSafe app, had to overhaul the underlying algorithm of the app to compensate for ‘Digital handshakes’ only connecting 27% of the time on some iPhones, Guardian Australia reports.

In June, the DTA reported the app sending out and receiving beacons worked as infrequently as one in four times on the iPhone. Under freedom of information laws, Guardian Australia had requested a copy of the underlying data used to produce the table provided to the Senate committee which suggested that as of 1 August, the older iPhone 6 and 6s models were communicating with each other or the iPhone X models between 27% and 40% of the time when both the devices were locked. On the other hand, it is a substantial improvement from late April where the test results showed the app working only 7% of the time.

For communication between iOS and Android devices, the app worked as often as 100% of the time when both devices were active, but as low as 40% of the time when they were locked. In an ideal scenario where both the iPhones were active and unlocked, the communication frequency increased between 73% and 93% of the time as of 1 August.

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Source: Guardian Australia

In the document provided to Guardian Australia, the DTA stated that the iPhone’s performance now was close to being rated “good” pertaining to the algorithm overhauls made to the COVIDSafe app.

“If any digital handshakes are not received, for reasons such as Bluetooth performance or environmental factors, the health portal [used by state health officials] is able to overcome any lost handshakes following improvements to its filtering algorithm.” the DTA said.

The algorithm is now updated to determine a pattern of behavior over a 15-minute window, rather than requiring a full set of 15-consecutive handshakes.

The privacy rules restrict any federal government oversight over how the app is working in contact tracing, except for what the state departments report back, which is why New South Wales (NSW Government) is now leading a process to provide regular updates to the federal government on the utility of the COVIDSafe app.

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