Probably because I do IT stuff for a living, which includes IT Security, I've been asked by a few people will I be downloading the Australian Government's "CovidSafe" app?

This is an evolving topic, but I'd like to give a level-headed answer as of today. It might be different tomorrow.

First off, I'm not the sort of person that wants everything to return to "normal" urgently. Our planet is getting a well-deserved break from the worst ravages of humanity, and it would be great to take advantage of this time to make things better afterwards. So the argument that "just download the app already so I can go get my hair cut and play the pokies again" isn't really that compelling. I do watch on sadly at the personal impact on people's jobs, the arts scene, the cafe culture and our assumed freedom to roam. But I don't think downloading and installing an app that potentially takes away our liberties is worth it, until someone proves otherwise.

Contact tracing has been by all accounts EXCELLENT before this app. I'm still hunting for someone involved in this work actually asking for an app to fill some sort of gap in their capability, and describing what that gap might be. An actual epidemiologist says "This only complements, rather than replaces, the existing contact tracing process. All cases will still need to be interviewed. If only half the population have the app installed, then you would then expect roughly a quarter (0.5 x 0.5) of contacts to be detected by the app."

 

(Tech friends, this won't be a hyper-tech post. Go check out my Twitter if you want more details and sources).

So, there's three parts to this CovidSafe app:

  1. A terrible name. Just to make the point, the app is poorly named. Installing it won't make you safe from COVID-19. Poor marketing. but will make some people feel warm and fuzzy I imagine, which appears to be one of the key reasons for it being released
  2. A phone app that you download to your Android or Apple smartphone, assuming you have one and it is recent enough for the app to install. This software may (or may not) have the source code released soon so that we can be completely sure of what it does, but preliminary analysis shows that it seems fairly benign in day to day operation, at least until you elect to upload what it has captured to the backend server (see 3 below). The issue is that unless you do upload what this app captures to the backend server, the data on your phone is worthless. It doesn't help you, or contact tracers in any way.
  3. A backend server. This is the part that the government has been assuring us only the NSW Health officials have access to do, as it holds the output of everybody's apps.
    One issue is that it is hosted on Amazon Web Services, a generally excellent platform in wide use. But ultimately this backend software is running on physical servers that are not under your control. They aren't under NSW state government control. They aren't under Australian federal government control. There will be some staff working for Amazon (based in the US) who have sufficient administration rights to get to that data, and they are bound by United States laws, not Australian government promises.
    We have also heard no announcement of the source code for the backend being released, but it needs to be if we are to understand the end to end security of the system.

So, at this point I'll install the app when:

  • Someone who works in contact tracing can clearly articulate why it is needed. Note that being blackmailed into "thinking of the hard-working health workers" doesn't count, because as above this app "only complements, rather than replaces the existing contact tracing process".
  • Parties involved release source code for all components for review by independent researchers
  • The backend is moved to physical (and virtual) servers provided by a company bound by Australian laws and paying tax in Australia

As for the "but Facebook and Google already know everything about you anyway, so why not" argument:

  • These two companies are already working together to produce an app that does the same thing, but world wide. Given most of Australia's infection hasn't been through local community transmission but imported, wouldn't utilising that if you are comfortable with those companies tracking you be better anyway, rather than Australia building our own? They also do location-based app development stuff all the time, so are likely considerably more competent at it.
  • I try pretty hard to block that. You can disable much of this, and reduce or cease your use of those platforms

But like I opened with, who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Other great sources:

The main street of our nearest town Picton is going underwater again currently, the second "1 in 200 year" flood since 2016.
 
Many shops took a year or two to re-open, and I like many others spent a day down helping strip soaked shops into skips, their devastated owners unable to fully comprehend the scale of their losses.
 
With our government doing very close to nothing to help slow down the changing climate (our state MP Nathaniel Smith MP has posted encouraging everyone to "pray for the rain to slow down", a month or so after various fellow conservative politicians were asking us to "pray for rain" to put out the bushfires), the most sensible suggestion I have seen thus far is to consider moving these shops to other nearby centers on higher grounds, like Thirlmere. Abandon at least parts of this historic town and become climate refugees on the outskirts of Sydney, as a pragmatic response to government inaction.
 
But tonight I'm worried about our friends and local shopkeepers in Picton who are anxiously watching the water rise.
 
(We have a few drips in our house, and the animals are pretty miserable but still undercover in the stables, so nothing compared to what's happening down the hill)

Camden-Narellan Advertiser Article

As I've written about this amazing woman's assistance at our school during my transition:

"Once we’d decided to tell the kids, I booked some time with the principal and explained that after the break our kids would return with two mums.
I was a little worried about how she might respond, but I wasn’t asking for permission, I was explaining what was going to happen. Despite it being a tiny school in the country, the principal’s first response was: ‘Well you aren’t the first!’ I certainly wasn’t expecting that! We are currently the only LGBTI family at our school, but have immersed ourselves in the community and found broad support. "

Thanks so much Sharon for such a huge piece of leadership that has meant so much to all of us, as well as guiding all three of our kids plus many more towards adulthood.

My favourite thing about January 26th in Australia is that it means the blackberries are ready to harvest.

If you are going to invade a native population uninvited and take over, at least be tasty.

Country Shopkeeper: Bit warm
Me: Good weather for a beer!
CS: Sorry we've closed but feel free to grab one
Me: *surveys the really poor options in the fridge*
Me: Any cider, or Coopers maybe?
CS: We sell lots of Carlton Cold?
Me: ok then... *grabs long-neck of substance I last consumed last millennium*
CS: Because you're only a small girl, don't drink it too fast!
Me: ok sure *rolls eyes, sniggers*
CS: I'll wrap it in paper so you can be like one of the boys
Me: *somehow resists saying "nah, been there, done that"*

I do love country folk :)