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Making contact tracing difficult in Victoria

Why doesn’t Service Victoria’s Contact Tracing Check-In app have a web-based option for users with obsolete or unsupported mobile phones?

Contract tracing is one of the best tools that we have to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Timely contact tracing can stop the spread of the disease in its tracks by identifying the source of infection and isolating anyone who’s been in the vicinity of a confirmed case. In Victoria, all patrons are now required to use Service Victoria’s app to scan the QR codes that are displayed at venues.

A poster displayed in a shop with a QR code printed on it.
Service Victoria’s contact tracing app has no web-based form that users can fill in their details. Why?

Unfortunately there are some serious limitations to what the Service Victoria app will support. In the case of Android systems, it requires Android 6.0 (Marshmallow, released October 2015) or newer. Many people don’t have phones that will support the app. Service Victoria’s answer to this is to ask patrons to “ask the venue about checking in manually”, which most likely means a pen and paper.

The big selling point for the Service Victoria app is that it allows real-time data collection by health authorities to get on top of an outbreak fast. So it seems odd then that there is no ability to submit attendance data via a web-based form. This would have the advantages of being real-time and would work on any internet-enabled device with a browser, irrespective of the age of the operating system or age of the phone. After all, this is what the World Wide Web was invented for – universality.

When a QR code is scanned in Victoria, it’s actually redirecting the phone’s browser to a URL in the format https://service.vic.gov.au/check-in/start?metadata=XYZ. The XYZ part is a string encoded in Base64 that contains information about the venue. If the mobile device is determined to be running the Service Victoria app, then the browser redirects to the app and user can input their details. If not, the user is redirected to a page telling them to download the app.

Service Victoria’s website displays instructions for downloading an app if the official app isn’t installed on a particular device.

Wouldn’t a web form option here be better here? The information about the venue is already encoded in the URL, so how hard could it be? The user could then enter their name and phone number, press “Submit” and the job would be done.

There are many reasons why a person may not be running the app. Maybe their operating system is too old, or perhaps they have insufficient room on their phone to install more apps? It’s ludicrous that they can’t be supported with an internet form as backup. Then the only people who would need to use a pen-and-paper are those without internet-enabled mobile phones at all.

With a web-based form to support the app, the Department of Health would receive more real-time data from venues and we’d all be just that bit safer.

   

Comments

3 responses to “Making contact tracing difficult in Victoria”

On 8 June 2021, Andrew wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

My partner’s old phone would not read QR codes with its camera, so I installed a QR code reading app and it was fine. It’s a valid point about having space for another app but worth getting rid of a less used one. It would be quite easy to do as you suggest and allow check in to be done using the www as well.

On 12 June 2021, Marcus wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

100% agreement here from me as for the a lack of web form being a massive omission.

Another flaw in the current design is that once you’ve visited the website and downloaded the app, the newly installed app doesn’t know the location details that you just scanned in order to get the app – so you need to find the QR code again and scan it a second time.

Thankfully that convoluted workflow is a one time thing!

On 16 July 2021, Conrad wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Initially it worked as a web form for me, running latest Android version on a less than 1 year old phone but now in the last week they have reverted to promoting me to download the app, why break something that wasn’t broken? You’re making me take extra steps to do something that I could easily do prior and sadly that just isn’t going to happen for me. One less contact to trace here.

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