COVID-19 contact tracing apps are frequently voluntary in those countries that have rolled them out so far, but India’s is effectively mandatory. The country’s home ministry will require that all workers, public or private, use its Aarogya Setu app starting May 4th. Company and government leaders will be responsible for enforcing adoption, officials said, and there will be “punishment” if there’s negligence.
The app has already been downloaded 80 million times, and the aim is to not only reach every smartphone user in the country (about 350 million) but reach basic phone users through an interactive voice system.
Like in other countries, widespread adoption of contact tracing apps could prove vital to curbing the spread of the new coronavirus. They might reduce or eliminate the need for further lockdowns while humanity waits for a vaccine. However, governments have generally shied away from requiring these apps, in part to assuage fears they might be used for mass surveillance. India clearly isn’t as worried about public perception.
Privacy activists aren’t happy, to no one’s surprise. Although the app relies on anonymous device identities and stores encrypted records of Bluetooth interactions with other devices, the Internet Freedom Foundation said the app doesn’t meet data protection standards or provide enough transparency for algorithms. Mozilla warned that it wasn’t certain how Aarogya Setu’s data would be used, and that there weren’t sufficient privacy laws to protect the public. This won’t necessarily lead to abuses of power, but there might not be much to stop those misuses if they do occur.