An app launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to track and contain the spread of coronavirus is the fastest to reach 50 million users, while being hampered by privacy concerns.
Aarogya Setu – Hindi for Healthcare Bridge – alerts users if they come into contact with an infected person and informs them of health services they might contact. It attracted 50 million users in 13 days, tweeted Amitabh Kant, chief executive of government think tank Niti Aayog. That’s the fastest pace for any app, including Facebook, he said.
Singapore also launched the TraceTogether app last month. Apple Inc. and Google have teamed up to develop technology to curb the spread of the virus by instructing users to quarantine or self-isolate after coming into contact with an infected person.
“Digital technologies can be used to monitor the spread of Covid-19. Such largely voluntary initiatives have been successful in helping to combat the pandemic in East Asia,” the World Bank said in its latest South Asia Economic Focus report.
Aarogya Setu compares unfavorably to TraceTogether, according to the Internet Freedom Foundation. While countries like Singapore say contact tracing will be used strictly for disease control and cannot be used to impose lockdowns or quarantines, Aarogya Setu retains the flexibility to do just that; other apps simply collect one data point which is then replaced with a sanitized device ID while Aarogya Setu collects multiple data points for personal and sensitive information which increases privacy risks.
“As such, the Aarogya Setu app appears clearly incompatible with privacy-focused efforts,” said Sidharth Deb, policy and parliamentary adviser at the Internet Freedom Foundation, in a working paper. “It is necessary to immediately cancel the application or to accelerate the measures”. to improve the design and deployment of the application in terms of trust, security and confidentiality of information.”
Representatives from India’s Ministry of Health and Ministry of Information Technology did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. The Indian Army has informed its personnel that they cannot use the app in office premises, operational areas and other sensitive locations, the Print website reported. In his address to the nation on Tuesday, Modi urged citizens to download Aarogya Setu. The app is available on Android’s Google Play – where it’s ranked as the best free app – and on Apple’s App Store.
India has 12,456 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 422 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
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