- Team urges Australian Government to go with Australian privacy-focused contact tracing app
- Developed by Australian team who built award-winning intelligent transport solution PTIPS
SYDNEY, April 16, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — The core members of the Australian development team behind the award-winning intelligent transport solution, PTIPS, has announced completion of a working prototype for its new proximity-based, “total privacy” contact tracing app ConTrace, for the mitigation and reduction of disease transmission (https://contraceproximitytracker.com).
ConTrace dashboard, shows the number of proximity events logged in the last hour, as well as previous 24 hours
Testing has shown that the working prototype reliably detects other nearby ConTrace users through the use of Bluetooth Low Energy, and logs these as proximity events in the phone’s datastore. As soon as a ConTrace user’s infection is registered in the system, it immediately alerts all other users who previously came in contact with that person. All of this is done while maintaining total privacy and anonymity of users.
The ConTrace prototype comes amid reports the Australian Federal Government is considering implementing a version of Singapore Government’s TraceTogether app, which requires users’ mobile phone numbers. Technologists and civil liberty groups around the world are voicing concerns about contact tracing systems that collect and require personal data. A group of Australian academics from the University of Melbourne and Macquarie University last week posted an opinion piece warning that “such apps could be used as a tool for mass surveillance beyond the original purpose of COVID-19 contact tracing.”
“People’s fears about privacy and surveillance are understandable,” said Jonathan Armstrong, creator of ConTrace. “I think the COVID-19 crisis has brought us to a crossroads, and is forcing us to stop and think before we take another step away from a privacy-protecting solution.”
In contrast to apps that require mobile phone numbers and other personal information, ConTrace was designed from the ground up to be privacy-protecting and anonymous:
- Users enter zero personal information, so zero personal information can be hacked or misused.
- On registration, each user is allocated a randomly generated identifier (UUID, or Unique User Id), which is the only thing about them that is recorded in a proximity event.
- Each user’s proximity event records will be encrypted and stored on the users’ smart device.
- Proximity event records will be deleted from the users’ device after 21 days.
- Only when an infection is registered will the user’s phone upload its proximity event data (i.e. the list of random UUIDs that it detected) to a secure cloud server
- When users are alerted that they were in the proximity of an “infected” ConTrace user, the time and location of this event is not disclosed.
ConTrace is the work of the core members of the development team that created PTIPS – a large scale intelligent transport system for the NSW Government. PTIPS provides the real-time bus stop arrival data that feeds apps like TripView and TripGo, used by millions of NSW commuters. Also, the NSW Government uses PTIPS to manage over $2 billion worth of bus contracts annually.
The ConTrace development team members have donated their time for the past four months on this project pro bono. They are working around the clock to turn the ConTrace working prototype into a full public release. This will include a consumer-ready user interface and further functionality and security refinements. Subsequent versions are expected to include unfalsifiable immunity certificates and live chat support for virtual health consultations. The team are seeking funding to expedite development so that Australians can start using ConTrace as quickly as possible to protect themselves, and contain the spread of the disease.
“Sooner or later the self-isolation laws are going to be relaxed, and when that happens, contact tracing apps like ConTrace will be one of the crucial tools in our arsenal against COVID-19 to prevent a resurgence. However, for contact tracing apps to be effective, uptake must be swift and extensive – and this can only happen if people trust them. We urge industry and the Australian Government to consider and support Australian-developed, privacy-guaranteed solutions such as ConTrace, so that uptake by Australian consumers is swift and unimpeded by trust or security concerns,” Armstrong concluded.
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ConTrace is a simple and immediate way to identify people who have been in close proximity to a disease carrier, without collecting and sharing personal data. ConTrace is like a personal ‘Black Box Flight Recorder’ that runs on smart phones and devices, using BLE technology. Except instead of logging flight data, it silently, securely and anonymously logs ‘proximity events’ as we go about our lives. A proximity event is an instance where two people – specifically their devices – are in close contact. On a confirmed report of a communicable disease, ConTrace instantly alerts all ConTrace users who have been in contact with the patient, providing clear directions on symptoms to watch for, recommendations on getting tested, and the details of the nearest screening facilities.
- Jonathan Armstrong: Originator of ConTrace. Formerly Data Quality Manager at NSW Health, and PTIPS Data Manager at Transport for NSW. Currently Clinical Data Manager at Scientia Clinical Research. Formerly worked for NSW Health, Royal Hospital for Women, and Pharmacia & Upjohn. Degrees in Advanced Science (Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience), Information Technology, Business (Marketing & Bus. Admin.)
- Louis Berghold: ITS Development Lead at JYW Consulting. PTIPS Systems Development Manager at Transport for NSW. Degree in Bachelor of Engineering, Computer Systems with First Class Honours.
- Ghassan Jarjees: Intelligent Transport Systems Specialist at Prioritize P/L and original PTIPS creator. PhD in Intelligent Transport Systems & Grad Dip in Economics
- Graham Webber: PTIPS Senior Developer at Transport for NSW, Senior Java Developer and Web Applications Developer. Bachelor of Science (Computer Science).
- Brian Caoyonan: Accomplished UX professional and UI developer with over 17 years of experience in UI discovery, design, and delivery, for organisations such as Academy Xi, UNSW, IAG, NBN, Vodafone and others.