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Centrelink App Privacy Warning Message

Outline
Circulating message warns that a mobile phone app provided by Australia's Centrelink can get complete access to the user's phone and thereby poses significant privacy risks.

Phone security concept

© Depositphotos.com/ alexmillos



Brief Analysis
The warning is overblown. In order to work effectively, the app needs permission to access information and various functions on the user's device. Many apps require such permissions. Centrelink maintains that it does not use the information accessed for departmental purposes. Use of the Express Plus Centrelink mobile apps is entirely optional, so those concerned about privacy issues are free to remove it from their devices.

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Example

ATTENTION ALL FRIENDS- Have any of my mummy friends got the centrelink app stored on your phone? If so id delete it now... How many of you have read the update app information for centrelink? Did you know when you press accept update your giving centrelink complete access to everything on your phone.... Dont believe me then check my snap shot out..... centrelink also constantly have your gps location so they know where you are they know who you call they know what you txt they know everything...... they have access to absolutely everything that is stored on your phone! I have never been so discusted and stalked in my life! Im sure after reading this your discusted to? We are all entitled to live our life in privacy. Please if you have apps on your phone any apps always read the fine print before downloading and always read the update app information before updating the app im pretty sure your giving all of those apps access to your personal life. Never keep screen shots of your bank account or banking details stored in your phone.

Centerlink App Privacy


Detailed Analysis


A warning message about the potential dangers of using the Australian Government's Centrelink phone app is currently going viral via social media.

The message warns that, by accepting updated permissions for the app, you are effectively giving Centerlink access to everything on your phone and allowing them to track your whereabouts and know who you call or text. The warning includes a screenshot outlining how the app can access and process SMS messages on the user's phone.

Centrelink, which is managed by Australia's Department of Human Services and offers a variety of government payments and services to Australian citizens, has a range of Express Plus mobile apps based on the client's needs. The apps allow clients to more easily perform Centrelink related business via their phones.

In truth, the permissions that the apps ask for do sound scary. But, the apps need to access information and other functionality on the user's phone in order to perform the tasks that they are designed for.

Centrelink has published the following information in its troubleshooting guide for the apps:

Device Permissions

We have received a number of enquiries regarding the permissions for this app. These permissions are required to allow the app to work effectively with your device. We do not use this information for departmental purposes.

Below is a short description of why we require permissions.

Your Location

Required for the office locator and directions. We do not store your whereabouts.

Your Personal Information

Required to add appointments to your calendar. We do not retrieve any details from your calendar.

Phone Calls

Required to allow you to contact us while using the app. We do not log your calls.

Camera

Required to allow you capture and upload a document.

Centrelink has a separate privacy notice pertaining to the use of the apps. Under the heading "What information will the department collect?", the notice states:

Use of the Express Plus apps is voluntary. You are able to decide whether to download the Express Plus apps onto your mobile device, whether or not to use the Express Plus apps once downloaded and what information you choose to disclose to the department on the Express Plus apps.

If you decide to download and use an Express Plus app, the department may, as operator of the Express Plus apps, collect records containing your personal information. By clicking the 'I accept' button at the end of the Terms and Conditions on an Express Plus app, you consent to the collection of information by the department submitted via the Express Plus apps.

The department will collect information via the Express Plus apps to enable you to apply for services or payments, or continue to receive services or payments from the department. The collection of some of the information by the department may be required or authorised by law. Where collection is required, you retain the option of providing information to the department in a different manner, such as over the telephone or in person.

Many apps need similar permissions in order to work.

Thus, the warning message is overblown. There is no indication that Centrelink is using the apps for any purpose other than what they are intended for and many people find the apps useful.

Of course, in an increasingly connected and digital world, it is quite understandable that people are concerned about how much information governments collect about them. Therefore, as Centrelink itself advises, use of the apps is entirely voluntary and you can remove them at any time.

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Last updated: December 18, 2013
First published: December 18, 2013
By Brett M. Christensen
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References
Express Plus Centrelink mobile apps troubleshooting guide
Privacy notice for Express Plus Jobseekers, Students, Families and Seniors mobile apps




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