Despite privacy and surveillance issues around Aarogya Setu mobile app, the Centre may soon make its usage mandatory for every individual. The government is right now weighing in all options to put a stop to coronavirus pandemic in India, which also includes making the app mandatory for people who want to use government services such as flights, metros, etc, reported NDTV, adding the final decision in this regard was yet to be taken.
Notably, the Aarogya Setu app has already been made mandatory for all central government employees so they could get real-time information about any contact with the COVID-19 affected person. "All the officers, staff (including outsources staff) working in Central government should download 'Aarogyasetu' App on their mobile phones, immediately. Before starting for office, they must review their status on 'Aarogyasetu' and commute only when the app shows 'safe' or 'low risk'," an order passed by Joint Secretary G Jayanthi said.
In case the app shows a message 'moderate' or 'high risk' -- which is calculated based on Bluetooth proximity of recently contacted person -- the employees have been advised not to come to office and self-isolate for 14 days or till it becomes 'safe' or 'low risk', it added. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during many occasions, has also appealed to people to use the Aarogya Setu app.
Activists have raised objections over its use, saying the mobile app could become another tool of mass surveillance. The Internet Freedom Foundation, in a recent paper, said the Aarogya Setu app was "inconsistent with the right to privacy and is conceivably a risk toward a permanent system of mass surveillance".
Those who want to download the app need to enter details like foreign travel history, health details and allow access to Bluetooth and GPS tracking. With a significant rise in coronavirus cases in India, more than 5 crore people have already downloaded the Aarogya Setu app, and the government wants to push more as part of its efforts to contain the deadly virus.
What is Aarogya Setu app
The central government of India launched Aarogya Setu on April 3 to track the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Aarogya Setu app alerts people if any person in their vicinity has tested positive. The district administration has been asking all educational institutions and departments to push downloading of the app. The current version of Aarogya Setu app is primarily compatible with smartphones only.
The app has largely received positive reviews on the Play Store. It has become No. 1 free app in the Indian mobile application market.
Here's how you can download the app:
Step 1: Go to Play Store and search Aarogya Setu
Step 2: Click on Install
Step 3: Once the app gets installed, select the language
Step 4: Switch on Bluetooth and location
Step 5: Set "location sharing" to always. Location data is sent to the government."
How does the app work?
The user carries out the self-assessment test through chatbox on the app. The bot asks gender, age, foreign-travel history, and symptoms. This data is used to identify risk and alert other users if they come across anyone suspected of coronavirus. The app is available in 11 languages-English, Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Odia. Aarogya Setu is based on Singapore's successful community tracing app "TraceTogether". Other countries are also developing similar kinds of apps to limit the spread of coronavirus.