India’s Aarogya Setu app to fight COVID -19 updated its privacy policy after users’ concern

indica News Bureau-

The Aarogya Setu app was launched earlier this month by the Indian government for people to self-assess COVID-19 symptoms and the possibility of them contracting the virus.

Even as the government pushes for aggressive adoption of app Aarogya Setu, privacy-focused groups such as the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) were raising alarm over its compliance with the globally-held privacy standards, while also recommending privacy prescriptions for these technology-based interventions.

In a detailed report and analysis on contact tracing apps, the New Delhi-based IFF raised concerns about information collection, purpose limitation, data storage, institutional divergence, and transparency and audibility. These concerns come amid affirmative claims by certain sections of the government and technology volunteer groups that the app was designed with a “privacy-by-design” approach, Economic Times reported.

After raising flak for missing out on crucial data privacy provisions, the Indian government has now finally updated the privacy policy for the Aarogya Setu to address the concerns and extend its use beyond COVID-19 tracing.

Aarogya Setu, the official Indian government app for contact tracing COVID-19 cases, enables alerts via Bluetooth Low Energy and GPS when people come in proximity with a positive or suspect COVID-19 case. However, the application, launched on April 2, had no terms on how it is using the information of users. After many concerns from privacy experts, the government has now updated the policies.

The description of the app at Google play said, “Aarogya Setu is a mobile application developed by the Government of India to connect essential health services with the people of India in our combined fight against COVID-19. The App is aimed at augmenting the initiatives of the Government of India, particularly the Department of Health, in proactively reaching out to and informing the users of the app regarding risks, best practices and relevant advisories pertaining to the containment of COVID-19.”

According to a report by Medianama, the government has addressed these crucial security and privacy concerns directly by updating the privacy policy of Aarogya Setu. The new norms suggest that data, hashed with a unique digital id (DiD), is saved in secure servers of the government. The DiDs ensure that name of users are never stored on the server unless there is a need to contact the user.

In terms of the visual aspect, the dashboard of the app has been made more prominent, with images of how to remain safe and how to maintain social distance at all times. The app is likely to display an e-pass feature in the days to come, but as of now, it does not share any information regarding the same.

The previous policy mentioned that users would receive notification of revisions from time to time, but that has not been the case with the recent policy update. What is more shocking is the fact that the present privacy policy is not mentioned in the Google Play Store, which is otherwise a must.

Aarogya Setu has also clarified the end-use for the data Aarogya Setu collects. The policy says that the DiDs will only be linked to personal information in order to communicate to users the probability that they have been infected with COVID-19. The DiD will also provide information to those carrying out medical and administrative interventions necessary in relation to COVID-19.

Further, the privacy terms now show that the government will encrypt all the data before uploading to the server. The application access location details and uploads it to the server, new policies clarify.

The recent update in the policy reads that the data of users will not be shared with any third-party apps. However, there is a clause. This data may be retrieved for necessary medical and administrative intervention, although the exact definition or meaning has not been made public yet. Information will be sent to the central government’s server without the user’s permission

Under the new policy, data collection questions have also been clarified to some extent. The update says that the app will collect data every 15 minutes of users having a ‘yellow’ or ‘orange’ status. These color codes signify a high level of risk for contracting coronavirus. No data will be collected from users having a ‘green’ status on the application.

On the data retention front, the government has clarified that all the data will be deleted from the application and server in 30 days for people not contracting coronavirus. Meanwhile, the data of people testing positive for COVID-19 will be deleted from the server 60 days after they defeat coronavirus.

As per the limitation of the liability clause, the government cannot be held responsible for the failure of the app to identify a person accurately, as well as for the accuracy of the information provided by the app. The policy reads that the government is not liable in case of any unauthorized access to your information or modification thereof. However, it remains unclear if the clause is limited to unauthorized access of a user’s device or central servers which store the data.

The fastest growing app

The Aarogya Setu app has become India’s the fastest growing app.  “AarogyaSetu, India’s app to fight COVID-19 has reached 50 mn users in just 13 days-fastest ever globally for an App,” Kant tweeted. Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also urged the citizens to download the application in order to keep themselves safe during the pandemic outbreak. Modi also said that the tracking app is an essential tool in COVID-19 fight and is possible to use it as an e-pass to facilitate travel from one place to another, according to Press Trust of India report.

Developed by the National Informatics Centre that comes under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, the ‘Aarogya Setu’ tracking app, which is already available on Google Play Store on Android smartphones and App Store for iPhones. The Aarogya Setu app supports 11 languages. Once you have downloaded the app, you need to register with your mobile number. Later, the app will have an option to enter your health stats and other credentials. To enable tracking, you need to keep your location and Bluetooth services on.

District administration has been asking all educational institutions, departments etc to push downloading of the app.