Increasing COVIDSafe App Usage

Insights from an SRC Quick Poll

11 May 2020

The COVIDSafe app was developed and deployed by the Australian Government to enable rapid contact tracing for people who are diagnosed with COVID-19. It was based on a similar app in Singapore. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other leaders have suggested that widespread uptake of the app—at least 40 percent of adults—is critical for contact tracing to support lifting social distancing restrictions. As of 11 May 2020, approximately 5.5 million adults, or about 34% of the Australian smartphone users had downloaded the app*. To target outreach efforts to increase adoption, critical questions for the federal government are Who is Not Downloading the App and Why Aren’t They?

To answer to this question quickly, the Social Research Centre (SRC) conducted an SRC Quick Poll between 4-7 May 2020. A sample of 542 Australian adults who also participate in SRC’s larger, monthly Life in Australia™ panel were asked whether they had heard of the app, whether they had downloaded or were intending to download the app, why or why not, and whether the app was still installed in their smartphone. To enable robust analysis of app adoption, these results were combined with data from waves of the full panel sponsored by the Australian National University. The full study results are available here. Highlights follow.

App Awareness is widespread

  • Communication about the app has been very successful. Nearly all of the 542 people surveyed knew about the app. Only 8 (1.5%) reported that they had not heard of it.

Four groups of people are least likely to download the app

  • Overall, 48% of our sample had downloaded the COVIDSafe app. This was higher than download rates at the time the survey was in field. We adjusted for this bias using statistical modelling; see full study results for details.

1. Those with low levels of digital ability or access to an up-to-date smartphone

  • People who reported in 2019 that they only had a landline at home and did not own mobile phone were much less likely to have downloaded the COVIDSafe app than were those who owned a mobile phone at that time. (Some had acquired a smartphone since we last asked them about telephone service.)
  • People who spent little time watching TV using online ‘catch-up’ TV were less likely to download the app. Not using these services is likely to be a marker of less relative ability to navigate the digital landscape.

2. Those who did not trust government

  • People who expressed less confidence in the Australian Government in April 2020 were less likely to have downloaded the COVIDSafe app.
  • People who did not get information about COVID-19 in April 2020 from official government sources such as Federal or State Government websites or Chief Medical Officers were less likely to have downloaded the COVIDSafe app.

3. Those who were less concerned about COVID-19

  • People who thought that they had a lower likelihood of being infected by COVID-19 in the next six months (from April 2020) were less likely to install the app.
  • People who reported avoiding crowded places less often in April 2020 were less likely to install the COVIDSafe app.

4. Adults who identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander were less likely to have downloaded the COVIDSafe app.

Factors that were not predictive of COVIDSafe app use were revealing:

  • Age did not directly play a role in downloading the COVIDSafe app, although it is likely to be picked up by digital access and affinity.
  • Gender also did not play a role.
  • Migrant status and parental migrant status, citizenship and speaking a language other than English at home were not associated with COVIDSafe app usage, although it should be emphasised that the survey was fielded only in English.
  • Geography, whether by state, remoteness or area-level socio-economic status was not a driver of adoption. Individual socio-economic status—at least for those able to afford a smartphone—also was not a factor: home ownership status, education, employment and various indicators of economic distress were not associated with downloading the app.

Figure 1:Predicted probability of downloading COVID-19 app

Predicted probability of downloading COVID-19 app chart

Reasons for not downloading the app vary

We asked respondents who had not downloaded the COVIDSafe app and did not plan to download it in the future the main reason why not. (See Figure 2).

The two most common reasons were not trusting the safety of the app and not trusting the government with their data. The third most common reason was not wanting the government tracking them. Not installing apps and an inability to install apps (including not having a smartphone) were the next most mentioned reasons. The other reasons were volunteered write-in responses.

Figure 2: Main reason for not downloading the COVIDSafe app

The most common written-in reason was that the COVIDSafe app wasn’t needed where the respondent lived or worked, with the respondent indicating that they lived in a rural, regional or remote area. In a similar vein, were people who saw the app as being unnecessary because they were self-isolating. Others did not think the app was needed or helping. Various phone-related reasons were given as well, such as a lack of storage space on one’s smartphone, excess battery drain, not having Bluetooth enabled (to save battery life) and not using location services. Another small cluster of responses were related to iPhones and reflect an apparent misperception that the COVIDSafe app does not run on iPhones, tying in with recent media.

About 7 percent of adopters have trouble downloading the app

Of 280 respondents who downloaded the app or tried to download the app, 262 (93.0%) were able to successfully install it. Given that there have been more than 5 million downloads of the app, this suggests that sizeable number of people may have been stymied by installation difficulties.

Few have uninstalled the app

Uninstalling the COVIDSafe app appears to be uncommon. Of the 262 respondents who were able to successfully install the app, only 4 (1.5%) reported that they uninstalled it.

Implications for expanding COVIDSafe app adoption

At the time of data collection, about 31% of Australian smartphones were estimated to have had COVIDSafe downloaded and installed.

Three factors were associated with failure to install the COVIDSafe app: lack of access to a smartphone or limited skills, lack of trust in the Australian Government and the absence of perceived pressing need. Some ideas to support additional uptake include:

  • Addressing the approximately 7% of attempted installations that fail. The government could staff and promote an app installation help desk and consider ‘family help desk’ messaging to motivate tech-savvy family members to help others get COVIDSafe installed on their phones.
  • Working with respected organisations and individuals to promote the app. Media coverage of the app ‘doing its job’ by state and territory health authorities would also be helpful.
  • Especially as social distancing restrictions are reduced, expanding communications that reinforce that COVID-19 is still circulating, can still harm people of any age and that installing COVIDSafe opens the way to early detection and treatment, leading to better health outcomes.

* Uptake is 27.8% of the adult population (estimated adult resident population is 19.75 million per ABS ERP) and 34.4% of smartphone users.

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