Aarogya Setu app privacy policy updated after social outrage

Aarogya Setu, India’s contact tracing app launched in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak in the country earlier this month has been updated with new features and privacy policy. The updated policy answers some of the pertinent questions around privacy and security concerns raised by cybersecurity experts and agencies. Aarogya Setu is the world’s highest downloaded app as it reached 50 million milestones in 13 days, the fastest ever for an application, Android or iOS.

Telephone took 75 years to reach 50 milion users, radio 38 yrs,television 13 yrs,Internet 4 yrs, Facebook 19 months, Pokemon Go 19 days. #AarogyaSetu,India’s app to fight COVID-19 has reached 50 mn users in just 13 days-fastest ever globally for an App
Salute the spirit of India! pic.twitter.com/xKqt3Tmj4f

— Amitabh Kant (@amitabhk87) April 14, 2020

Contact tracing is being adopted by many countries in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 and India’s app is no different as it is capable of producing a social graph from the various data points it collects automatically. It also uses Bluetooth and GPS to ascertain real-time information that’s logged in the app and based on the graph, the app determines whether you have been near an infected person.

The changes in the privacy policy now state that the personal data of its users will not be shared with third-party. The government has made it clear that all private data collected by the app is encrypted and that it is assigned a unique DiD (Digital ID). This data is stored locally as well as on the government server and will only be used in two cases– for the generation of anonymized statistical figures and graphs related to the spread of Coronavirus and for communication to the user in case of detecting infection. Interestingly, the location data is collected every 15 minutes and stored locally and is only uploaded to the government servers if the user tests COVID-19 positive.

The changes in the policy also make it clear that the data stored on the government server of people not infected by the disease will be deleted after 45 days from the date of upload while the data of those infected will only be deleted after 60 days of being declared cured.

Outside of this, however, the app has recently received an update that adds a link to donate to PM CARES fund and is reportedly being prepared for another update that will add the functionality of getting an e-pass for lockdown. Therefore, Aarogya Setu can easily transcend its fundamental use case if the government wants to.

According to a recent report by PTI, Tata Consultancy Services and Mahindra group are both working on different aspects of the Aarogya Setu for the next version with data science and machine learning baked in. The app will soon be launched for feature phones as well because, for contact tracing to work, the social graph needs to feed on data points of more users. This is why the government has been pushing citizens and its employees alike for downloading the app, including all educational departments and institutions.

While the new privacy policy does clear some doubts regarding how the government will handle user’s data, the app isn’t open-source and neither allows auditing of code as stated in the white-paper released by the Internet Freedom Foundation. Meanwhile, Aarogya Setu is set to get more users as the PM suggested every citizen to download the app in his nation-wide address, earlier this week.


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