The system’s addressing of privacy, however, may not be foolproof as companies have not said how much data-sharing will take place with the government, and for how long such data will be stored.
While governments have been at the forefront of adopting innovation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, tech companies are playing a more measured role. India unveiled the Aarogya Setu app just a few days ago, and Singapore and South Korea have their versions. It is only now that Apple and Google have stepped in, working together towards a system that can trump government apps. The main criticism of government apps is the unfettered access these give governments to people’s lives. So, the tech giants have come up with an innovation that may protect privacy to a limited extent, while managing effective contact tracing. The system uses Bluetooth to generate an ID for every user and logs information on how many devices it encounters. Once the person reports positive for COVID-19, communication will be sent to all other devices that the infected person came in contact with. Unlike government apps, the system does not trace GPS, and creates a private ID, keeping the identity of the person anonymous.
The system’s addressing of privacy, however, may not be foolproof as companies have not said how much data-sharing will take place with the government, and for how long such data will be stored. Given the nature of the virus and how it can survive on surfaces, the government also needs to track the locations visited by an infected person. The reason South Korea has been able to contain the virus is because of its 100m app, which allows people to know if they are walking the same path as an infected person, and whether they need to be extra cautious or careful. Privacy, no doubt, is essential, and Apple and Google’s initiative will help build trust in the system. But, the companies also need to work in a way that they aid the government to offer both containment, and privacy.