COVID-19 is growing in India and the Government is using both digital and analog strategies to control the spread of the virus. In analog strategy, Government announced three weeks of lockdown till April 14th which has been now extended till May 3rd, 2020.
As part of its Digital Strategy, the Government of India launched the Aarogya Setu app that is designed to provide official information about the prevention, and best practices for the containment of the COVID-19. It uses GPS and Bluetooth for identifying the potential spread of the infection, but at the same time, it uses the exact location of users raising concern over privacy.
New York City-based Software Freedom Law Center in India (SFLC.in) claimed in a recent post that the app collects sensitive private data such as a person’s gender and travel information that it stores in the cloud.
It notes that “The App continuously collects the location data of the registered user and maintains a record of the places where the user had come in contact with other registered users,”. The team also underlined that the app restricts reverse engineering that could let security researchers examine the privacy issues.
Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) released a paper earlier this week that stated major privacy issues within the Aarogya Setu app. “Unlike Singapore and MIT, India’s contact tracing project lacks transparency,” Sidharth Deb, Policy and Parliamentary Counsel at the IFF, writes in the paper.
The major technology-side issue that has been raised by the IFF team is the use of GPS that isn’t there in case of the TraceTogether app developed by the Singaporean government and the framework jointly announced by Apple and Google that both rely upon Bluetooth over getting location details using GPS data. The GPS usage by the app would provide authorities exact longitude and latitude details of the users, which isn’t in the case when using solely Bluetooth connectivity.
In simple words, GPS access is not required for contact tracing as the users who’re in touch with an infected person can be tracked using Bluetooth as well. Another major issue that has been noted in the paper is the absence of references with respect to any non-government stakeholders and vendors involved in the development process.
Although, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his latest Address to the Nation requested everyone to download the Aarogya Setu app which will boost the downloads of the app. It’s notable that the app has already crossed 40 million downloads out of which more than 5 million came in just 3 days of the launch of the app.
Coronavirus Whatsapp chatbot in India that surpassed 17 million users in just 10 days of its launch and the chatbot grew from 17 lakh daily active users to over 35 lakh daily users in just one day after the Prime Minister highlighted its availability during a public video conference.
More details about COVID-19 available here.