Since the pandemic has made countries kneel, several countries are running app-based tracking of coronavirus infections among their citizens. Singapore was one of the first. South Korea has shown that it can control coronavirus infections by tracking COVID-19 patients thoroughly. Some European countries have their apps to track COVID-19 infections.
COVID-19 apps made by China and India are unique in their own way. So far, these only two countries have come up with something that surpasses tracking COVID-19 cases. These apps not only track COVID-19 infections but also certify who is or isn’t infected, who is or isn’t at risk and who should stay home.
China came out with a colour-code system weeks after the spread of coronavirus. The colour-code system asked people to self-report travel history, location, any cold or flu-like symptoms and so on. Based on their inputs, the system gave people a colour code: Green, Yellow and Red. People who get ‘Green’ are free to go to public places in China. They can ride trains, go shopping, and can enter commercial complexes. People who get Yellow are denied access to public places altogether and are told to go home and quarantine for 7 days. People who get Red are also denied all access and are told to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.
Inspired by the Chinese app Indian Government launched “Aarogya Setu”, India’s contact tracing app.
Once a user downloads the Aarogya Setu app, it will ask for continuous Bluetooth access and location data. The app then asks for some information that will help build data about the users. This includes age, gender, name, health status, mobile number and travel history similar to the Chinese app. The application also asks the user of their profession. Then it asks if the user will be willing to help in times of need.
Like many apps around the world, Aarogya Setu uses Bluetooth signals on smartphones to record when people come in close contact with one another so that contacts can be quickly alerted when a person tests positive for COVID-19. But Aarogya Setu app also uses GPS location data to elevate the information gathered via Bluetooth and build a centralized database of the spread of the infection. This approach has been avoided by most countries for privacy reasons.
Being further impressed by the Chinese app the Indian government added the colour-code system to Aarogya Setu app. Red signifies that the person is COVID-19 positive. Orange signifies that high risk of infection. Yellow means, there is a moderate risk of infection. Green means the user is safe.
There have been reports that exhibit that the app provides no information whatsoever. Exploring the Aarogya Setu app MaverickTimes found that after the app was installed, no information regarding the cases around the user was presented. Even after possessing the location of the user no information the cases around the user were displayed. Except, what the interface displayed were videos made to promote government policies.
The app can also store user’s information for up to 60 days. If the app isn’t providing the information its foundation is laid on then why is it asking and storing the information of its users?
It has been made mandatory for both government and private sector employees. So far, participation on the app was voluntary but the new order from the Union Home Ministry will not only make it necessary for private and government sector employees but also for people within a containment zone.
“Use of Aarogya Setu app shall be made mandatory for all employees, both private and public. It shall be the responsibility of the head of the respective organisations to ensure 100% coverage of this app among the employees,” the ministry said.
The question that arises is that if no information regarding the cases around the users is being displayed, why is the government making the download of the app mandatory.
The act of making the download mandatory for the whole Smartphone using population is a controversial issue.
There is a need for the government to exhibit the effectiveness of the app to build trust between citizens and frontline health workers.
The conclusion is, in a country with a huge population and little space for physical distancing, chances are that everyone may be infected. If not combined with more and more testing, these contact-tracing apps like Aarogya Setu are bound to remain evasive at best.