The app is called TraceTogether and debuted on March 20. It is described as an additional tool to help track the virus, relying on infected individuals’ recall and memory of where they were while moving around.
When installed, the app allows short-distance Bluetooth signals to connect with one another, with detailed records then stored on a user’s phone for 21 days at a time. Location data is not connected. If a user is diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, they can let Singaporean health authorities access their app data and see who else might have been infected.
Singapore’s rules mandate that when a person is contacted in the above instances, they are required by law to help map out their whereabouts to trace the pattern of infection.
All of this has led to some privacy concerns. Singapore has tried to offset those concerns, saying the app doesn’t collect personal details like a person’s name, doesn’t record location data and doesn’t access anyone’s phone contact list or other private data.
However, if deemed necessary, authorities can decrypt the data if there is some coronavirus-related risk and track people down.
Response to the app has been favorable, and over 500,000 Singapore residents downloaded it within a day of its launch. Other countries have also expressed an interest in using the app.
Singapore has reported more than 600 cases of the virus as of Wednesday (March 25). It has had two deaths, and so far, more than 15o patients have been discharged.
The response to the coronavirus has proved a complex one in terms of privacy concerns, as the virus is highly contagious and attempts to contain it by knowing who has it are necessary. That means using tech to track people. South Korea has published data of people’s movements before they were diagnosed. And Israel has an app to warn people if they’re close to someone who has been diagnosed.
Meanwhile in the U.S., Google parent Alphabet has courted privacy-related controversy as it rolled out a new site to give people a quick questionnaire to see if they qualify for a COVID-19 test. But given that it’s tied to one’s Google account, concerns about how the tech giant would manage the data cropped up among numerous lawmakers.