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COVID-19: The new economics of our daily lives
COVIDSafe downloads may be more about understanding people than about the design of processes
Julie Lee, Joanne Sneddon & Paul Gerrans
Julie Lee, Joanne Sneddon and Paul Gerrans explore what might be contributing to the decision to download the COVIDSafe tracing app or not.
The Federal Government is stressing the importance of downloading the COVIDSafe app to “protect you, your family and friends and save the lives of other Australians”.
The COVIDSafe app is specifically designed to speed up contact tracing, which is currently one of the four conditions linked to the easing of public health restrictions. This app traces all contacts between people who are using it and stores this information on an encrypted government server that will automatically pass the information to State and Territory health authorities in the event that a contact tests positive for COVID-19.
As of Monday 11 May, the Government reported over 5.5 million downloads of the COVIDSafe app. However, this number still falls well short of the Government’s target of 40% of Australian adults. To reach the target the Government will need to convince those who intend to, to download it, and to change the minds of those who don’t intend to download it.
To date, the major focus has been on convincing people about the safety and privacy of their data. However, it is also important to consider whether there are other factors influencing this decision.
Between 8 and 11 May, we asked 1,959 Australian adults who are taking part in The Values Project whether they had or would download the COVIDSafe app. Of these, 39% said they had, another 10% cent said they intended to, and the remaining 51% indicated that they didn’t intend to download the app. While our sample is not designed to be representative of Australian adults, it can provide important preliminary insights into why many Australians have not yet downloaded the COVIDSafe app.
What is influencing those who currently don’t intend to download the app?
Our preliminary results suggest that the decision is not solely based on concerns about data security. People who said they don’t intend to download the app are less convinced about the need for it than those who are committed to downloading the app (i.e., those who have or intend to download the app). Specifically, those who don’t intend to download the app were less worried about getting COVID-19 and believe the COVID-19 virus is less severe than those who committed to download the app.
These beliefs were also apparent in the behaviour of those who currently don’t intend to download the app.This group reported less social distancing than those who had downloaded the app, as well as less adherence to the hygiene measures recommended by the Government (e.g., washing hands, cleaning surfaces, staying at home). They also reported being less likely to take a voluntary COVID-19 test, if a positive result means they would have to (1) isolate at home or (2) isolate in a hotel, than those who committed to downloading the app.
People who value self-direction are motivated to seek freedom, independence and autonomy. They are more likely to want to make their own informed choices and less motivated by coercive or conformity-based appeals (e.g., consensus).
This is not to say that data security is not an issue for this group, as they reported feeling less general security than those who downloaded the app. They also have far less trust in Australian institutions, including parliament, politicians, the legal system, police and the scientific community, than those who committed to downloading the COVIDSafe app.
It will also be important to motivate the intenders to act on their intentions.
This is likely to require more than a simple reminder. The intenders (i.e., the 10% who said they intend to download the COVIDSafe app) ascribe greater importance to protecting the natural environment and lesser importance to protecting the welfare of close others, as personal values, than those who downloaded the app.
While this group was similar to those who had downloaded the app in terms of their social distancing beliefs and behaviour, and in the adoption of hygienic behaviours, they reported a higher susceptibility to illness and less overall sleep quality in the last month than both of the other groups. This suggests that personal safety appeals may be important for this group.
We also considered how public role models may be contributing to decisions to download the COVIDSafe app.
People take cues about how to behave from others, especially during times of crisis. The public’s exposure to the views and behaviour of politicians, including their opinions and behaviour toward the COVIDSafe app, is unprecedented.
A quick analysis of an ABC report of 7 May 2020 on the MPs who had or had not downloaded the app showed that 92% of Coalition MPs and 88% of Labor MPs had downloaded the app, whereas only 10% of the Green MPs and none of the One Nation MPs had downloaded the app. Given the differences in MP behaviour, we investigated whether party preference was related to the decision to download the COVIDSafe app.
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