CDE News – April 2020 issue

May you live in interesting times!

Interesting times indeed. Here’s what’s happened since our previous newsletter:

  • crude oil prices dropped to negative $37.63 per barrel;
  • Zoom’s market capitalisation exceeded that of twitter or Snapchat;
  • Virgin Australia entered voluntary administration;
  • three government apps made it top the top 10 in both Google Play and App Store. ATO, DHS and DTA are nailing it right now;
  • a new service, Goat 2 Meeting launched in Silicon Valley. They charge $100 for a llama to join your conference call.

It is a true rollercoaster! Unprecedented developments, inspiring highs, unexpected (?) lows, and impressive wins. And when you think you’ve seen every wild idea, Silicon Valley surprises again.

Last week, the Prime Minister of Australia talked about The App Created to Trace Our Contacts (I’ll call it TacToc), to monitor the spread of COVID-19. The app will likely be released next week, and Scott Morrison said at least 40% of Australians should install it, for TacToc to be effective.

Let’s put it in context.

40% of Australians equals to roughly 10 million people. That’s how many times TacToc needs to be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play. How long would it take for a popular app in Australia to be downloaded 10 million times?

According to the most recent reports, in February 2020 TikTok was the most downloaded app in Australia, across two platforms (Android and iOS). It was downloaded 461,000 times that month. If TacToc, not TikTok, is downloaded at that rate, we will reach 40% of Australians in… about 22 months from its launch, in February 2022.

I am harsh. February is the shortest month of the year. Let’s have a look at December 2019. Most popular app?Disney+, with 816,000 downloads. Wait, I am feeling generous: I found that in November 2019, Disney+ was also the most downloaded app (it was the month Disney+ launched in Australia). It was installed 1.3 million times. What if TacToc is as popular as Disney+ in its first month, and then every following month? We will reach 40% of Australians in almost eight months, in December 2020. A bit late, perhaps?

It seems to me that the Government is more ambitious than TikTok or Disney+ are. The Prime Minister likely wants his “Plan A” to achieve its goal in less than three months. For this to happen, we would need TacToc to be downloaded at a rate that is three to six times higher than the current top apps in Australia. I sincerely wish this will be achieved, but let’s be clear: it will be unprecedented. Just like crude oil prices dropping below zero. Or me paying $100 for a video call with a llama.

There are other ways of achieving contact tracing at such scale. We might need to think beyond “let’s build an app for it.”

Yes, Prime Minister.

In the rest of the newsletter, please say virtual hello to Dr Paula Dootson, a Chief Investigator in the Centre for the Digital Economy, and research leader of many of our research projects since 2016. Read a deep dive insight into lessons learned from deploying AI in the public sector, co-authored by one of CDE’s Chief Investigators, Prof. Kevin Desouza. If you’re wondering why there has been so much misinformation about COVID-19, an article by Tobias R. Keller and Rosalie Gillett might entertain you (Rosalie has worked with CDE on some of our projects). Finally, the Helvetas magazine published our article on the future of public services. Enjoy the read!

Most importantly, stay safe!

Stay curious,

Prof. Marek Kowalkiewicz
Centre for the Digital Economy

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