Aarogya Setu, the COVID-19 tracking app launched by NITI Aayog, has crossed the 7.5 crore (or 75 million) downloads mark. The app was launched on April 2 and has been rapidly growing ever since. The news was shared by the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) officials during a review meeting. According to a statement by MeitY, the Minister of State for Electronics and IT, Sanjay Dhotre, feels this app is “one of the most important tools in fighting COVID-19.” The free app is available for both Android and iOS. Notably, there have been some privacy concerns with the app as well, but that doesn’t seem to stopped its growth that has in part been helped by encouragements to download it by PM Modi and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), amongst others.
Dhotre also asked the officials to promote the app as best as they can. He expressed his satisfaction at the various efforts being made by different departments in the fight against coronavirus. The statement read, “The Minister was informed that 75 million people have already downloaded [Aarogya Setu app] on their mobile phones. He called this app one of the most important tools in fighting COVID-19 and one of the lifelines for common people during this global pandemic. He asked the officials to make all out efforts to popularise the app.”
The statement by MeitY also shared that the Minister is closely monitoring the Information Technology (IT) and IT-enabled Services (ITES) sectors and had detailed discussions with key officials regarding the gradual opening of these sectors after the lockdown ends. Dhotre also encouraged officials and stakeholders to “orient IT solution and services in such way that benefits the common people most during this unprecedented crisis.”
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The statement cited Dhotre saying that the government has a “historic opportunity” to serve humanity and it should be “utilised to the fullest and every effort should be made to bring relief to the common people.”
The Aarogya Setu app uses the location and Bluetooth data of a user to tell them if they are in a safe location or not. It also tells users if they have come in contact with someone who could have been tested positive for coronavirus.
However, there have been some privacy concerns over the rapidly growing Aarogya Setu app due to the underlying system on which the app works. According to a post by Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC.in), the app collects sensitive personal data like gender and travel information that is then stored in the cloud. The team at SFLC.in shared, “Moreover, the App continuously collects the location data of the registered user and maintains a record of the places where the user had come in contact with other registered users.” Notably, the app also restricts reverse engineering – preventing security researchers from finding out exactly what kind of privacy issues it might have. There have been other concerns as well regarding the use of GPS data.
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We also had a discussion with Arnab Kumar, Program Director, Frontier Technologies for NITI Aayog who responded to some of the privacy concerns raised by SFLC.in and Internet Freedom Foundation.
To recall, Arogya Setu app crossed 5 million downloads in the first three days since it launched. In about 13 days, there were 5 crore users of the app. Now, it has seen more than 7.5 crore downloads in less than a month. This meteoric increase in downloads since launch has been credited to promotions by Department of Telecom (DoT), CBSE, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.