India Makes Downloading COVID App Mandatory Unlike Other CountriesWeb & Apps

May 08, 2020 17:39
India Makes Downloading COVID App Mandatory Unlike Other Countries

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Arogya Setu is an effective app used to track coronavirus. Two months back when it was created, no one used it. Now things have drastically changed and there are almost 100 million users on this app.

The Prime Minister requested the huge 1.3 billion population to download this app. In two weeks, the story of this app changed and reached 50 million downloads.

This app has got even more users when compared to “We beat Pokemon Go” says, Arnab Kumar, the developer of this app.

It is famous and comes along with a rule that if you don’t install it, you can lose your job, get fired, or even go to jail.

According to MIIT Technology Review’s COVID Tracing Tracker, India is the country that has made an app to track coronavirus and millions of people have to install it.

Officially, downloading the app is a voluntary decision but the truth is, Government employees need to use it, slowly even private employers and landlords are making it a compulsion.

In Noida, people are fined and even threatened to be arrested if they fail to install this app on their phone.

In one way, this is quite a dramatic step being taken and Rahul Gandhi, leader of the National Congress has criticized the app. He says, that this rule of installing an app has “no institutional oversight” and raises “serious data security and privacy concerns.”

Further, he says, “Technology can help keep us safe,” Gandhi recently tweeted. “But fear must not be leveraged to track citizens without their consent.”

A senior policy analyst from the digital rights group access now says, “There is an infringement on human rights that is not justified here,”

“There is a risk of initiating a tool that can be repurposed for surveillance after the pandemic.”

According to the MIT Technology Review’s database, this app is rare in many ways when we compare it to what other countries are developing as none of them have a Bluetooth or GPS to give “exposure notifications” and get to know if a person they interacted with is suffering from COVID-19 or not.

Yes, India’s app might seem massive. Even then it is doing much better with regards to what other countries are building.

Highlights of Arogya Setu

  • The meaning of this app is “a bridge to health”
  • Tracks Bluetooth contact events and locations
  • Gives a color-coded badge revealing infection risk
  • Offers access to telemedicine, e-pharmacy and diagnostic services
  • All telecom companies have whitelisted it. Hence, using it won’t exhaust data limit

In terms of security, this app was built according to the standards of a draft data privacy bill that is in the safe hands of the Parliament. One cannot easily access this data, it is properly monitored and controlled.

However, according to critics, this is not an open-source despite being made mandatory by the Indian Government and its code is made available to the public.

Kumar says, he takes this limitation as a goal to improvise on Arogya Setu and it will happen shortly. However, he hasn’t given a date to complete it.

Before this app was announced, the Indian Government received consent, and using this app was a voluntary decision.

Now, 1 million people, including the Central Government workers, employees of private companies like Zomato, Swiggy, etc have been ordered to use this app.

It is only India that has made this app mandatory for people. On the contrary, in other countries it is different. The other democracies have made deals with mobile phone companies to access location data from residents.

In Europe, the data has been aggregated and anonymized. In Israel, law enforcement focused on this pandemic and has used a phone tracking database that’s normally reserved for counterterrorism purposes.

Given the fact that this app is not open-source, its code and methods cannot be reviewed by third parties and there is no information on when this app will cease to be mandatory.

Kumar says that the data in this app gets deleted over 60 days for sick individuals and 30 days for healthy people. Yet, it is still not clear as to how long will Indian State and National Government will take it ahead.

Two reports saying different things, one says, the Arogya Setu app needs to be pre-installed on new smartphones and the other says, this app will be mandatory while traveling.

It was said that this app will make the technology easy for Apple, Google, and Android in a few days. However, according to the new rules, it requires user content and banning location tracking. The Arogya Setu doesn’t follow any of these rules as of now.

Google engineers have been in touch with Aarogaya Setu’s developers to gap this bridge of privacy issues.

Anivar Aravind, executive director at the civic-technology organization Indic Project says, “There is no effort made by the state to earn citizen trust,” “Here are a set of private-sector corporate volunteers, with no accountability, that built an app for governments that are forced to personal devices of everyone.”

By Neha Makhija

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