The Covid-19 crisis has brought the entire world to a halt. The virus has left no stone unturned, bringing casualties and suffering to the entire world. The number of cases seem ever so emerging without any signs of declining. The inability to distinguish an infected person is a major reason for the widespread. Even though people are practising a culture of social distancing and taking precautions, they haven’t been sufficient. At the moment every country seems to have stopped everything and focused solely on covid prevention. Countries have showcased their technology to fight against the crisis, with the use of robots, drones, apps, AI and machine learning. One of the aspects in which technology has played a pivotal role in limiting the widespread is contact tracing. With the help of cellphones contact tracing has been made more efficient and many countries around the world seem to have adopted this policy.
According to WHO, “Contact tracing is the process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent onward transmission.” This helps to identify potentially exposed people to infected people and isolidate them, before they are exposed to more people and thus break the chain of transmission. The asian countries were the first to launch contact tracing apps. China and Korea seem to have made diligent use of this technology against Covid-10. Most of the apps are voluntary based, however some countries have even imposed compulsion in using such apps. The apps are referred as COVIDSafe in Australia, Chinese health code system in China, Corona App in Germany, StopCovid in France, Aarogya Setu in India, Immuni in Italy, Trace Together in Singapore.
The tracing apps have had mixed reviews around the globe with some countries considering it as a lucrative decision, while others seem more concerned over privacy and invasive policy of such apps. India’s Aarogya Setu became the world’s fastest growing mobile app with 50 million users in just 13 days, beating the previous title holder, “Pokemon Go”. It has now more than 100 million downloads. Similarly, Australia’s bluetooth-tracking COVIDSafe app, saw nearly two million downloads in the first 24 hours. On the other hand Singapore’s TraceTogether app has been installed by only one fifth of its population, far below the 75 percent rate government officials say is required for the app to be effective.
These apps tend to make use of either location(GPS) or bluetooth, even both in some cases to keep track of users. Using GPS, a person’s movement is tracked based on visited locations and possible contagions after identifying regions of interest. Bluetooth/BLE(Bluetooth Low Energy) technology uses proximity tracking, in which nearby phones swap encrypted data to keep track, over bluetooth. Location tracking has been considered invasive and privacy breaching, with bluetooth providing better privacy and more precision in this matter. The constant monitoring of location visited by people has been considered a clear violation of privacy and deemed unnecessary. On the other hand, BLE technology isn’t supported by all devices and is effective only in newer models. Similarly, the strength of bluetooth signals can vary based on a phone’s age and model, it has issues when running in background in iOS. In addition, the countries relying on bluetooth have faced issues of false positives given the fact that the signals travel through walls.
Different countries have taken different approaches in making the use of contact tracing. Some have imposed compulsion and applied authoritarian policies while others have been more lenient. China has been constantly monitoring its citizens’ data including identity, location and even online payment history to watch out violation of quarantine rules. The article https://futurism.com/contact-tracing-apps-china-coronavirus suggests many businesses in China using QR codes, which the visitors need to scan before entering a building to give data of where he has been in the past 14 days. Similarly, a system implemented in Moscow, Russia requires people to download a QR code to move around the city. They first have to register on a government website and declare their intended route in advance. The QR code then gives them the authorization to leave the house. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged everyone to download Arogya Setu and made it mandatory for citizens living in containment zones and for all government and private sector employees. Perhaps, this might have led it to become the fastest growing mobile app. On the other hand, countries like Singapore and Italy have been very transparent and adept in ensuring the users’ privacy. These apps tend to use very limited personal data, and store the tracked data of only the last 14-21 days within users’ phones. The user has overall control of the data in the sense that it can be deleted as per user’s wish. Only after the user’s consent health authority has access to the tracked data. However, officials worldwide have vowed to keep the privacy intact, with no leakage of personal data, and deletion once the pandemic is under control.
After witnessing success in different countries around the globe the USA also has joined in on this venture Microsoft has developed its own contact tracing app. Similarly, Apple and Google have joined forces in this hour of crisis and mobilized huge teams to build systems to notify people of potential exposure with their COVID-19 Exposure Notifications API .
In spite of privacy issues, the result of China stands out for the compromise people have to make. There are hardly any new covid-19 cases in China whereas it has gone out of control around the world. While these contact tracing apps might have been substantial in containing the corona virus in the majority of the developed countries, there is no solid foundation for this approach in lower income countries. The approach is heavily based on smartphone possession by citizens which is not the case in lower income countries. People hardly have enough to bring up food to the table everyday, let alone the idea of affording smartphones. In this time of crisis the poor have been the most affected, with people dying more from hunger than the disease.The lockdown has thus displayed wide disparity in the lives of the rich and the poor. We can only wish and pray the number of cases slump with reduction in casualties, and hope for a covid free world to bring the “normal life” back again.