Singapore is not the only country to try this technology; the UK and the US are both mulling on using GPS or Bluetooth to create such apps.
The private sector in India has been fast to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, showcasing solutions like chatbots to spread information. On Friday, the Indian government, too, announced the MyGov bot—built on Haptik, a chatbot platform—which can help people learn about the virus, and offers videos on how to keep the threat at bay. While this is good progress, Singapore has harnessed technology to aid in actual contagion prevention through contact tracing. To be sure, India is using technology to aid contact tracing, too—some apps have released features that allow users to maintain a digital diary, where they can record interactions—but, contact tracing still remains rooted in human reporting. Singapore’s health department, on the other hand, is using Bluetooth to do real-time tracing and alerting.
It is asking people to log on to the Trace Together initiative. The app requires mobile phone information to log in, and for people to keep their Bluetooth on. If one encounters a person who is later detected with Covid-19, the app will alert all users who were within two metres of that person for 30 minutes. Singapore is not the only country to try this technology; the UK and the US are both mulling on using GPS or Bluetooth to create such apps. China, on the other hand, is claimed to have launched a mass surveillance system to track patients.
While Singapore claims that data can only be shared if the user allows, such apps do raise privacy fears. In a national emergency, the wider social good will, of course, trump privacy, but given that people are already sceptical of future use of such technology, governments must reassure the masses that this won’t be intrusive, if they want initiatives to be successful. A good idea would be to start by addressing concerns over data, and ensuring anonymisation even if users do share their details.