Spike in Aarogya Setu app downloads after PM’s speech

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Published on Apr 14, 2020 11:37 PM IST
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ByAmrita Madhukalya and Sanchita Sharma

New Delhi The Union government is planning a major push to make more people install Aarogya Setu, a mobile phone app that facilitates faster tracing of contacts of an infected person, by incorporating the curfew pass application process, the process of collecting samples of cases, and by offering incentives.

Aarogya Setu is among several such tools being developed across the world for digital “contact tracing”, a practice of identifying potential infections that is crucial to contain any infectious disease.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday listed installing the application among seven specific things people should do. The PM has in the past suggested using the app – launched on April 2 -- to help people move during the lockdown.

According to a government official involved in the development of Aarogya Setu, the app has notched up 47.1 million registrations, a big chunk of which took place immediately after Modi’s appeal. “There were 8 million downloads on Tuesday by evening, the sharpest single-day surge since launch. The PM’s announcement led to a spike of nearly 100,000 registrations per minute in the afternoon,” said Arnab Kumar, programme director of frontier technologies, Niti Aayog.

A member of the empowered group for technology and data management, which will take the final call on how the application is upgraded, said an announcement will be made in a few days after technical arrangements are made to incorporate each of the state portals, which include websites for the curfew pass applications. The pass mechanism will be such that an infected person or someone told be in quarantine will not be given a pass. In addition to the curfew pass system, “sample collection is also a key function we are hoping to work on,” said the official, asking not to be named.

According to Kumar, the application will also be upgraded to allow people to get medical consultations remotely and search for essential supplies nearby.

Such tracing tools have triggered concerns about privacy and surveillance.

Advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation in a statement on Tuesday flagged concerns, saying the data the application takes in is excessive and the software’s code as well as the policies governing its use are not transparent. “Protecting personal information is a priority and the data is only used for providing the Covid-19-related information and medical services necessary to protect people and stop the infection from spreading,” Union health minister Harshvardhan said on Tuesday amid the repeated criticism.

According to experts, the app could address a critical handicap in contact tracing. “You need to have a way of focusing (contact tracing) as an asymptomatic person travels over various distances, over time. We need to find out who all were close to that person and warn the others after the person is identified as positive. This is what Aarogya Setu also does – it will find the symptomatic person and also identify all asymptomatic people around them in the past few days and advise them too,” said Dr K VijayRaghavan, principal scientific advisor to the government of India

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Wednesday, December 01, 2021