With 83 million downloads and a personal push from the Prime Minister himself, the Aarogya Setu app has become the fastest downloaded app on both iOS and Android. The contact tracing app has been designed to enable Indians to verify if they have been in close proximity to someone with COVID19 enabling the government to quickly track and isolate potential patients. COVID19 has already impacted more than 3.5 million people worldwide and in India, the amount of positive cases has gone beyond 40,000.
Sanchit Vir Gogia, the founder/CEO and chief analyst of Greyhound research believes that there should be a third party body that regulates the privacy of contact tracing apps like Aarogya Setu. “ Most of all, it requires the government to assure its citizens that a Contact Tracing app (a mass monitoring system) comes with an expiry date and that it will never be used as a mass surveillance system,” he says.
He also notes that India, along with the UK and France is one of only three countries to have adopted a centralised system for contact tracing. They are also the only ones to have not adopted the framework that Apple and Google have come up with, yet.
Most experts also argue that since contact tracing applications like Aarogya Setu are dependent on self-certification, the data gathering is likely to not be accurate out of fear of being quarantined and socially ostracized, such levels of invasive data collection don’t make sense. GPS data collection can also become redundant and stale which would add to the inaccuracies of the system.
If contact tracing doesn’t work why is it important
Sanchit Gogia elaborates the importance of contact tracing in tweet succinctly. “ Such apps do give a good handle on “data” to authorities that have been struggling to make a decision given a serious lack of it as we speak. More data not only means contact chains & heat maps but a better ability to predict what’s coming, “ he said.
His argument hinges on the fact that it is humanly impossible to trace all COVID19 patients in a country as large as India with a population of 1.3 billion. He further outlines the fact in an article on the Greyhound website comparing the issues most countries are having with controlling the pandemic against China’s swift success. “ While China’s use of technology to tackle COVID19 sets an example of sorts, it also brings out the limitation other countries have, i.e. mandating citizens to use apps that capture personal data. Government collecting personal data is a sensitive topic, and often seen as an attempt to turn the country into a nanny state,” he states.
In a tweetstorm, he also states that India is particularly vulnerable as we have three strata of society that is handicapped from a technological standpoint as they don’t have access — the elderly who aren’t savvy with technology, the young who may not be compliant and may also not have access and the ones below the poverty line who can’t afford smartphones.
“To be effective, such apps will need to use Bluetooth and cannot solely depend on tower locations. What Apple, Google and the authorities must consider is the need to reduce false positives, given Bluetooth’s inherent weaknesses of range and accuracy. Also, since there are many unknowns in the framework that Google and Apple are co-creating, it requires the governments to architect a system that goes well beyond it, “ argues Gogia stating that inherent deficiencies of current technology used by most contact tracing apps mandate the use of more cutting measures.
India needs more data to tackle this pandemic which is why a mass monitoring architecture may be the need of the hour, however, the Aarogya Setu app would do well to amend itself so that it is more in line with the best privacy practices.
Sanchit Vir Gogia: Sanchit is the Chief Analyst, Founder & CEO of Greyhound Research, a Global, Award-Winning, Technology & Innovation Research & Advisory firm. To read more about him, click here.
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