Wednesday, 27 May 2020

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.

W hat 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.

Of the 1,564 people who declared their political preference, 30% were Coalition voters, 24% were Labor voters, 8% were One Nation and 6% were Greens voters, with the remaining respondents distributed across the other, or no, preferences. Consistent with the public views and actions of politicians, a higher proportion of Coalition (54%) and Labor (40%) voters downloaded the COVIDSafe app than One Nation (24%) and Greens (28%) voters.

It appears that politicians may be significant influencers in this context. Thus, the Government may need to convince the other political parties to support this initiative.

We also asked respondents what proportion of Australian adults they expect to download the COVIDSafe app, given that part of the messaging has been that it will only be effective if a threshold proportion does so.

Those who said they have downloaded the app, or will, expect about 60% of Australian adults will download the app, which is well above the threshold. In contrast, those saying they don’t intend to download the app only expect 35% of Australian adults to do so, which is well under the threshold, providing little incentive to change their views.

The Federal Government is facing a major challenge to convince the public to cooperate and this challenge is unlikely to get easier over time.

Conjecture about a second wave of COVID-19 cases has already become reality in some of the nations that appeared to be in control earlier in the pandemic (e.g., China, Singapore, Japan and South Korea). In order to convince individuals in our society to download the app, and to maintain public health behaviours in the longer term, messaging efforts need to be targeted to address many different concerns in the population. Issues of data security, which are currently being focused on, are only part of the story.

Julie Lee is a Professor of Marketing in the UWA Business School and Co-Director of the UWA Centre for Human and Cultural Values. Julie’s research focuses on the theory, measurement and implications of human and cultural values on consumer behaviour.

Joanne Sneddon is a Senior Lecturer of Marketing in the UWA Business School and Co-Director of the UWA Centre for Human and Cultural Values. Joanne’s research focuses on the measurement of human values in adults and children and the role that values play in predicting prosocial behaviour.

Paul Gerrans is a Professor of Finance at UWA. His research focuses on consumer financial decision making, particularly within a retirement savings context, and the role of financial literacy. Paul is currently a member of the OECD/INFE Research Committee, ASIC’s Financial Capability Research Steering Committee, and the OECD’s PISA Expert Group.


UWA Public Policy Institute