Singapore has decided to share the technology behind its contact tracing app with the rest of the world, particularly to developers who might want to adopt the same tech for their respective countries to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Just a few days ago, Singapore released TraceTogether, an app that can help users identify the people with whom they have had close contact recently. For Singaporean health authorities, it has served as a useful tool, especially when it comes to tracing which other people a coronavirus-infected patient might have had contact with in the last two weeks or so.
How effective is the app?
Mobile devices that have downloaded TraceTogether can trade short-range Bluetooth signals with each other, as long as they are within a specific transmission radius. Those encounters are logged, together with data like the duration of the encounter, and remain in the app for a period of three weeks.
In the event that a user of TraceTogether is infected with the coronavirus, the information stored in the app can be used by health authorities in order to trace which other people might have been exposed within in the last 21 days.
But wait — isn’t that surveillance?
Singapore has maintained that using the TraceTogether app is beneficial for the public, especially as an easily accessible means for the masses to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.
However, critics of this approach are saying that giving access to the app’s stored data is basically allowing the government to eavesdrop into the consumer’s every movement.
Is lessened privacy the price that people must pay in order to better deal with a worldwide pandemic?
For so many folks out there, the answer is, of course, yes. But as pointed out by some pundits, there’s a genuine fear that when the global outbreak subsides, the door to the consumers’ private information will remain open. And who knows which parties with less than benevolent intentions will exploit that opening.
Public response to the app has been good overall
According to a CNBC report, over half a million mobile users in Singapore have already downloaded the TraceTogether app within a day of its release. That number is expected to grow in the weeks to come.
Singapore has drawn praise from international circles for the way it has handled the coronavirus threat. Its quarantine protocols, coupled with its contact tracing methods, (accomplished via the help of TraceTogether), have resulted in a much lower rate of infection than many other countries.
For the rest of the world, however, this global health and economic crisis is far from being over.