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Are QR codes the future of contact tracing?

During the peak of the COVID 19 pandemic in Australia, it was voluntary to download the CovidSafe app, which required data such as location, name, age, mobile number and postcode. This app was designed to make it easier for health authorities to contact trace COVID 19 outbreaks.  Months later since the launch of the app, the app has appeared to be ineffective for health authorities contact tracing. South Australia is set to become the next state to introduce QR codes for contact tracing, as a new strategy to make this process more effective.

QR codes look similar to a barcode and are able to be scanned with a smartphone camera. You should be able to scan them using the default phone camera app, but if that doesn’t work there are a variety of apps on the app store you can download to get this feature working.

Examples of QR scanner apps:

  • Kaspersky QR Scanner
  • Free QR Scanner
  • QR Code Scanner

Once the code is scanned, it will take you to a website, usually to fill out a form or a survey. This is an easy solution for quick contactless data collection, as everyone fills out the form on their own phone and data is sent to one place.

Upon entry into venues, patrons will be required to scan the QR code and their data and fill out a form. This data will be stored for 28 days then will be deleted from the database. There has been queries and concerns of the safety and use of this data, that it will be given to venues or later be used for marketing purposes.

There has been an incident of a data breach in Tasmania, where a patron gave personal details to a hospitality business via QR code for contact tracing, and received promotional material the following day. The South Australian Government is still working through the details of how QR codes will be implemented in South Australia, but have assured that the privacy and protection of data is paramount.

Professor of Law and Information Systems Graham Greenleaf spoke at Deakin University’s Global Digital Publics Network and the Science and Society Network about this topic. He argued that jurisdictions aren’t paying close enough attention to where QR code data is going, as some data is being outsourced to QR providers.

Despite the CovidSafe app not being as effective as first thought, it has been a success for surveillance-related legislation in Australia. As this area of technology is quickly developing and changing, this legislation will be beneficial for future surveillance systems.

To overcome these privacy issues, Greenleaf has suggested that state and territory governments could force venues impose quality standards for data, and the Commonwealth could impose a new code on QR providers, to help prevent this data being outsourced.

Businesses have been using QR codes for some time now and patrons are fairly familiar with it. Businesses have used it for digital menus, collecting new customer information, collecting customer reviews and promotion codes. There are many benefits to using QR codes, the main challenge with contact tracing is the scale of data being collected, and how the government and businesses can govern and protect this large amount of personal data.


Bennet T, 2020. After CovidSafe, QR codes spark privacy concerns, IT News, viewed 10 November 2020,<https://www.itnews.com.au/news/after-covidsafe-qr-codes-spark-privacy-concerns-555345>.

Siebert B, 2020. CovidSafe app of no ‘material benefit’ to coronavirus contact tracing in SA, police chief says, ABC News, viewed 10 November 2020,<https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-04/coronavirus-covidsafe-app-effectiveness-questioned-by-sa-police/12846556>.

Siebert B, 2020. Privacy concerns as South Australia becomes latest state to flag QR code contact tracing, ABC News, viewed 10 November 2020,<https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-03/privacy-concerns-with-qr-code-contact-tracing-in-south-australia/12844050>.

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