The Government's just-released NZ COVID Tracer app has had a harsh reception from two academics.
At a 1pm briefing today, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said 92,000 people had registered for the app since it was released last night.
MBIE was in the process of contacting 800,000 businesses about how to create a QR code poster for the premises for the app. 1000 had already done so, with around 10 per minute signing up.
"The app is only useful in one very unlikely situation: if the user is diagnosed with Covid-19 and can't remember where they were on the days they were infectious - and didn't purchase anything using a bank card that can help them recall," Professor Rhema Vaithianathan, director of AUT's Centre for Social Data Analytics said earlier today.
"It's a lot of effort every day, just in case this unlikely event occurs. There is very little value in that scenario to incentivise people to scan QR codes multiple times a day."
Bloomfield said the ability for the app to alert people if they had been on the same premise as Covid-19 victims would be added at a later date.
He said NZ Covid Tracer would get its first incremental update this afternoon to fix sign-up bugs that had hit some with Android phones.
He said the Ministry of Health would work with private check-in app developers such as Rippl-maker PaperKite in Wellington on interconnectivity. The NZ COVID Tracer app would complement rather than replace solutions like Rippl, Bloomfield said.
The Director-General said the NZ COVID Tracer app stored check-in information on a user's phone. The ministry only kept contact details.
Another AUT expert, Professor Dave Parry - head of the university's Department of Computer Science, is equally blunt, saying, "The biggest issue with this app is that it doesn't really bring much benefit to the person using it."
He adds, "It doesn't replace the check-in systems to businesses or even allow you to automatically send your history to the contact tracing team, although this is promised.
"I found the interface to set it up rather clunky and I suspect a lot of people will give up. It also asks for a lot of information - admittedly voluntary - that it doesn't need."
The NZ COVID Tracer app asks for your name, email and cell phone number, with other details including birth date, gender, ethnicity and address optional.
Once registered, the app can be used to scan QR codes at shops, cafes and the like to keep a record of where you've been.
"The COVID-19 App developed for New Zealand is relatively simple. Effectively, it records where you have been," Parry says.
"The Singaporean and Australian apps use Bluetooth to detect who you have been in contact with."
This Bluetooth-based technology, which Singapore has made free to other governments, means a person can be alerted if they have been within 10 metres of someone with Covid-19 for more than 15 minutes - without people's names being disclosed to each other.
But Parry concedes that, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has noted, the Bluetooth apps aren't perfect.
"They can only give approximate distances to other people and usually need more power, meaning you have to charge the phone more often.
"They also need everyone to use the app and usage has been very low at around 10-15 per cent in Singapore," he says.
Another problem is that iPhone users have to remember to turn on the app every time they start their phone and leave it in the foreground (a solution being jointly developed by Apple and Google will be always-on, but is still being finalised).
Dr Bloomfield says Bluetooth tracing capability could be added in a June update to NZ's app.
Antony Dixon, a director with Wellington's PaperKite, which is offering its Rippl app for check-in, said on first analysis, the NZ Covid Tracer app "seems to have a primary function to help you understand your history and support sharing information with the Government in the event you have Covid-19. Rippl takes this further by allowing contact tracers to ask Rippl to scan logs and alert users who have been at the same venue as a confirmed case."
Dixon said his company's app also had the advantage that it did not need a data connection for sign-in.
He also said the process for businesses to register to create a QR code poster for the Government's NZ COVID Tracer app was overly complicated.