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Changes in CoWin app, govt restricts vaccine slot info to fight bots and alert services

The government of India has put a restriction on the number of API calls that such third-party source codes can make to avail real-time information on vaccine availability.

twitter-logoIndia Today Tech | May 7, 2021 | Updated 18:17 IST

Highlights

  • Several new websites make use of CoWin APIs to get real-time information on vaccine slot availability.
  • Government now wants to restrict those, as they often lead to hundreds of slots being booked within minutes.
  • The APIs were originally meant to be used by hospitals for smoother vaccination drive.

The government of India has put a restriction for third parties on the access to real-time data on vaccine slots across the country. The move comes as several new portals make use of this data to notify users of vaccine slot availability.

As people in India race to book a slot for the Covid-19 vaccine, several websites have come up lately that promise to help them with the same. These websites make use of the Application Programming Interface (APIs) of the CoWin portal to source the data for vaccine availability in a region.

As per a government official quoted in an ET report, the APIs were made public so as to enable private hospitals to obtain real-time information on their systems. This would, in turn, facilitate faster vaccination through these centres.

However, it has come to the government's notice that some technology professionals had been making use of these APIs to exploit the portal's transparency. They had written simple lines of codes to ping them of the vaccine's availability in their area. This allowed them to book the vaccine slots faster than others.

The government noted that the parties in question had also opened websites or Telegram channels to send alerts to other users looking for vaccination slots. This resulted in hundreds of slots being booked within minutes.

In order to curb these practices, the government has now limited access to these APIs. "These APIs are subject to a rate limit of 100 API calls per 5 minutes per IP," API Setu said in a recent note to developers.

The move comes amid limited availability of vaccine units as India begins the next of its vaccination drive. People between the age of 18 years and 45 years are now eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine jab, but the availability of an appointment for the same has been irregular in many parts of the country.

CoWin, the official portal designed for vaccine registrations and appointment booking, does not notify users of when a slot would be available next. Users had to revisit the website repeatedly to be up to date with the vaccine slot availability.

To solve this issue, several portals came up with the idea of sending notifications to registered users of slot availability in their region. Even when notified, users can only book the slots through the CoWin portal. The motive behind the portals was hence, only to notify the users when slots opened up and not to make bookings.

It seems that the government finds this practice unfair to those who do not make use of such notification services. Thus, it now limits the data exchange through the APIs for real-time information on vaccine availability.

"Even the bot built on the MyGov WhatsApp number lets you know about the slot availability, but the system doesn't let you run multiple APIs; there are limits on that," the official noted.

National Health Authority Chief Executive Officer RS Sharma reassured users that no vaccine slot booking can be made through bots or such codes since CoWin makes use of a one-time password on a phone number for user registration and appointment booking. The claim, however, has strongly been contested on Twitter.

(Image: Twitter)

In several tweets, people have pointed out that it is possible to automate OTP verification and hence the claim by the NHA Chief does not stand true. They have reasoned that tech professionals often use this method to test their own websites.

Also read: | Find Covid-19 vaccine slots in your area for 18 years and up to 44 years of age using these websites

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