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India is now in the 4th phase of the countrywide lockdown, with exceptions in a few areas. On 2nd April, the government of India launched an application called Aarogya Setu to track infections in an area and notify nearby residents of the level of caution that must be followed. Aarogya Setu app also helps in spreading awareness about the disease. The app has been in the limelight lately, and has received praise with several doubts expressed regarding user privacy.


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The app faces much criticism from the public, with some experts stating that it falls short in terms of internationally set standards. The app demands more data than required for tracing or providing information on COVID —19. It does not specify what all data is stored and where it is stored, which makes it less accountable in the eyes of the public. Moreover, the app is developed in a public-private partnership – which does not specify which department or ministry will be the one accessing this data. Aarogya Setu app uses Bluetooth as well as GPS technology to track its users, to declare an area as a safe or unsafe zone. This is a significant deviation from privacy-focused global standards, as the job can be done by matching the devices together in an area without exposing the exact location of a user. It is being called a ‘Surveillance app’ by the opposition, and the army has been told to refrain from using the app in sensitive locations and offices. Serious questions regarding the app’s overall credibility; especially its susceptibility to data breaches or losses, have been raised.


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The lockdown has everyone glued to their phone and television screens and the app makes it a point to be updated with the figures. Along with the latest updates, guidelines, and information, it has a feature to show the data state wise, and in readable form. It does a great service by confirming if the user’s neighbourhood is safe, and displays the number of infected people in the nearby areas. Aarogya Setu helps fight fake news and rumours by giving real time updates, accurate phone numbers, and helplines. A self-assessment tool is also provided for the users to check the basic symptoms, and results are sent to the server. Because of this feature, an infected user of the app can be transported to a quarantine unit without any risk of further infection. The government has also clarified that it uses aggregate data and not individual data of the users in formulating the results shown in the app. It also helps the government to categorize zones easily into the green, orange and red categories using real time information. This further helps aids the administration in formulating strategies for the functioning of the essential and non-essential services in any zone.


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An app formulated to help the people while also making them aware of the pandemic defeats its purpose if data and privacy are put at risk. The government must ensure that the data is stored on secure servers and is deleted once its purpose is fulfilled. Responsible ministries must be clearly specified and only they should have access to the data. International standards should be followed so that the app inspires confidence. The app should be solely operated on Bluetooth to respect the user’s location. The app also needs user consent and can’t be forcefully installed on devices. A lot of people in India do not own a smartphone and hence cannot use the app in the first place. While the Aarogya Setu app seems to have had a successful run in urban India, its progress in rural India remains to be seen.


By Rishab Didwania

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