Australian Conspiracy Theorists and Anti-Lockdown Groups Share Fake Covid Registration Apps | Health


A bogus logging app is being used by conspiracy theorists and anti-lockdown groups for Covid-19 to trick business owners and keep location data out of the reach of contact tracers in at least three states.

Guardian Australia may reveal that conspiratorial websites and Telegram groups with at least 15,000 subscribers share links that allow users to generate fake registration confirmations on their phones.

The user simply enters their name and a registration location, and the app instantly generates a registration confirmation screen that is almost identical to those displayed on government-run apps in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

The app does not pass any information to the government, making it difficult for contact tracers to find people in the event of an outbreak.

A side-by-side comparison of the real NSW registration confirmation app (left) and the nearly identical fake version (right), generated by Guardian Australia for illustration purposes. Composite: The Guardian

A Covid conspiracy website, which the Guardian chose not to name, says the app will allow people to enter a room “without arguing with the owner of the business.”

“This simple workaround creates what looks like a covid QR approval tick, but it doesn’t send your private information to the government,” the website says.

Users are encouraged to “click the check mark quickly” to prevent business owners from asking questions about the IP address that appears above the confirmation screen.

“Most people will see the check mark and not take a close look at the screen,” they told users.

Geolocation data suggests that the app is hosted by a Russian web address and is coded to suggest the involvement of someone with professional web development skills or, at least, a skilled hobbyist.

Links to the app are shared by some of the same Telegram groups that held nationwide rallies against the lockdown last month.

A fake registration confirmation designed to mimic the official Queensland government app.
A fake registration confirmation designed to mimic the official Queensland government app, generated by Guardian Australia for illustrative purposes. Photograph: Christopher Knaus / The Guardian

The Guardian has found promoted links in at least six anti-foreclosure groups that have nearly 15,000 members among themselves.

“It’s wrong to emulate the app we are all supposed to ‘use’,” wrote one Telegram user after sharing the link in her group. “Doesn’t keep any data on your phone and you can show the store person and they won’t ask any questions.”

Deakin University president of epidemiology Catherine Bennett said she couldn’t understand why people would use such an app. She said authorities only had access to the data in the event of an outbreak.

Deliberately avoiding registration would only hamper contact tracing and further prolong the lockdown, she said.

“Every time we slow down the identification of people at risk for infection, we potentially expose a lot more and the epidemic grows,” Bennett said. “Anytime a case goes undetected in the community, we end up not only with more cases, but also with more infected people who won’t even know they’ve been exposed, so they won’t. tested until they are sick themselves.

“Not registering or using a bogus registration app is the safest way to extend the lockdown.”

Mary-Louise McLaws, professor of public health at the University of New South Wales, said Covid recordings were essential to help speed up contact tracing and ensure proper isolation.

She said the bogus app threatened to undermine the current response to the Delta variant.

“Contact tracers are always catching up and if their speed of catching up is drastically reduced by fake QR codes, then the epidemic has the potential to get out of hand,” she said.

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