The healthcare system in India is facing a major challenge currently and the challenge is to handle the ongoing patient inflow as well as prepare for the worst. From the frontline doctors, nurses and staff to the tech entrepreneurs, everyone has been trying hard to contribute to making the situation better.

On one hand, the government is trying to enforce social distancing and self-isolation, it is also trying to find ways to trace contacts on the other hand. Along with major tech startups, the government is trying to digitize the process of tracking those who came into contact with infected patients. This is even possible in the case of patients with no active symptoms.

And to tackle the issue, the government has launched the Aarogya Setu app to contact trace the potential COVID-19 cases. Launched on April 2nd, the app has already been downloaded by 1.5 crore users.

The app is created in a public-private partnership (PPP) model between the government and other companies under the monitoring of the National Informatics Centre (NIC). The app enables people to get better information on the potential risk of coronavirus infection, self-assessment tools, and contextual advice.

The app was developed within 10 days of the idea being discussed. An official closely related to the development team said that the product development roadmap included getting the best talent from design to data scientist. The app also offers support to users in 11 regional languages and currently witnesses a 98% conversion rate.

Using Bluetooth and GPS-based location tracking system, the app identifies the possible coronavirus cases around users. It detects other devices using the same app and alerts users based on data from the proximity sensors on the device. The app also captures and sends data to authorities to let them know about the movement and location of suspect cases.

If the person using the app tests positive for coronavirus, the app calculates the risk of user’s infection based on recency and proximity of their interaction and communication with others and recommends suitable action. It has a self-assessment test, that analyzes the user’s current vulnerability to coronavirus.

The recommendations are generated using Bluetooth and artificial intelligence combined with inputs from the medical experts. The government says that the information will help to reach the user, in case medical intervention is inevitable.

The privacy policy of the app says that the information will not be shared with any third-party partners but only with the government of India. And this has outraged some privacy advocates about the working of the app.

However, the creators of the app claim that the app is designed to keep privacy in mind and the personal data collected by the app is encrypted using high-end technology and is completely secure. All the communications from the app, whether to another device or server is anonymized and secure and cannot be brute-forced, the creators claim. Furthermore, the app is tested for security vulnerabilities by leading industry experts.

The app states, “Your Data will be shared only with the Government of India. The App does not allow your name and number to be disclosed to the public at large at any time”.

All personal information is stored locally on the device and used by the Government of India in anonymized and aggregated datasets for generating reports, heat maps and other statistical visuals for tackling COVID-19 in the country, according to the privacy policy of the app. It further adds that personal information may be shared with medical professionals subject to necessity.

For a country like India where the personal data protection bill is still under consideration and review, access to the public’s data even for public safety has several implications. And not only Indians are skeptical about the government’s access to personal data. South Korea used technologies to compile GPS data, credit card swipes, and other information into a public log to visualize where the patients had traveled. In the United States, the administration is trying methods to use smartphone’s location data and Bluetooth systems to provide warnings if you’ve crossed paths with a COVID-19 infected person.

The government, unperturbed by the concerns of data privacy, has plans to expand the Aarogya Setu app to feature phones as well.

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