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Aarogya Sethu must be one of the most downloaded apps in April 2020. It has crossed 50 million downloads on the Android Playstore and 10 million on the iOS Appstore.

These are certainly impressive figures for a government-centric app that was launched virtually out of the blue on April 2. However, the makers of the app want more people to join in so that it achieves its prime objective: to track the Covid-19 spread in India. Meanwhile, some Indian IT observers are casting doubtful glances over the app’s privacy protection features as well.

Aarogya Sethu is certainly not short of media or public attention for one reason or the other.

If you are wondering what all the fuss is about, here is a quick summary of all about the ambitious contact tracing app that the Indian government launched to bolster its fight against the corona pandemic.

The Name Says It All

 

Aarogya Sethu in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit means ‘a bridge for health’. Aarogya means health and Sethu means bridge. The app kind of works as a bridge that could trace the people who have come into contact with a COVID-19-infected person.

For it to work effectively, a vast majority of people must download the app and keep it on their mobile devices. Otherwise, contract tracing could meet a dead end.

The app was developed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), which is a state-owned body often tasked with developing software and IT tools. There were media reports that NIC had sought the technical support of Makemytrip, the popular booking app in the travel and tourism sector, and 1mg, an app dealing with online pharmaceutical distribution. But the NIC, very often an opaque body, neither denied nor confirmed the news.

The app got possibly the best form of publicity as soon as its launch on April 2. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the people to download the app in one of his television announcements about the Corona pandemic. (In India, the television announcement of the current prime minister is widely watched and is expected to be an occasion for important announcements.)

The announcement quickly sent millions to download the app. The government has also issued a recent directive that all the government officials should download the app, which further boosted the app’s popularity.

Several trade organizations too have pitched in with their support to the app. Dr. Subhajyoti Ray, the President of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), has urged everybody “to download the Aarogya Setu App and also promote its download to your respective employees, consumers, vendors and other stakeholders … as a service to the Nation.”

Contact Tracing

The app does contract tracing through Bluetooth and GPS location service. It records all the phone numbers that come into its Bluetooth range on a server. Once a person carrying a particular number is tested positive for COVID-19 outbreak, it alerts all the other users who have come in the vicinity of the affected person’s mobile device. The app sends those details to the healthcare officials manning the situation in that particular area too.

The app will also show different color codes indicating the person’s status with respect to the Corona infection.

Aarogya Sethu also allows the users to contribute to the PMCares fund, which is set up by the prime minister himself to fund the post-corona rebuild initiatives. The users can obtain the required sanctions and approvals for venturing out during the lockdown period as well.

Privacy Concerns

The app is not without controversies either. Some IT experts are suggesting that the app violates the privacy rights of the individuals. Users need to enter the following details to the app while registration: name, age, job, health history, and, well, smoking habits.

They point out that some of the other contact-tracing apps used in other countries, such as Trace Together of Singapore and the Covid-19 Mobility Network of the Harward University, perform much better in protecting customers’ private data.

May be Aarogya Sethu could do with better privacy policy and practices. Nevertheless, in a vast and populous country like India, the app could be an invaluable tool to contain the outbreak. The country has to date recorded 31332 cases and 1008 deaths. This is comparatively milder comparing to the toll in Italy, Spain and the USA.

Aarogya Sethu can play an important role in the near future to hinder the Covid-19 outbreak in India. Find the app here:

Android Play Store- https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=nic.goi.aarogyasetu…

iOS App Store- https://apps.apple.com/in/app/aarogyasetu/id1505825357…