If someone told you before the Covid-19 pandemic, that there was an app called TraceTogether, you’d assume it was an online dating platform for amateur artists.
Unfortunately, the only thing our bodies are getting intimate with is the coronavirus.
While the rate of infection has slowed in Singapore, there’s still a real risk of the country experiencing a second wave of cases.
This is why it’s so important to stick to safe distancing rules and help out in the authorities’ contact tracing efforts.
One way we can do this is by downloading the TraceTogether app.
Reader: I’ve already downloa-
Downloading and using it.
Here are 10 facts about the TraceTogether app, the app which you’ve probably already downloaded but are not using.
If you prefer to watch a video instead of reading over 1,400 words, here’s a video we’ve done for this topic (also remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more informative and entertaining videos!):
1. It Was Released On 20 March 2020
The TraceTogether app was released on 20 March this year, less than two months after the country reported its first case of Covid-19, which we called the Wuhan Virus back then.
On that day, we only recorded 40 new infections.
The app was launched to allow the authorities to quickly track people who had been exposed to confirmed Covid-19 cases.
2. It’s Bluetooth-Enabled
Contact tracing relies on the memory of interviewees. So, what happens if the authorities ask someone like me where I was two weeks ago when I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast today?
This is why the TraceTogether app was created.
According to Mobile Health News, it works by exchanging short-distance Bluetooth signals between phones to detect other participating TraceTogether users in close proximity.
MOH guidelines define close proximity (i.e. close contact) as two metres apart or up to five metres, for 30 minutes.
3. It Doesn’t Track Your Location, Because It Doesn’t Need to
Fortunately, the TraceTogether app was designed to protect users’ privacy.
The only personal data collected are your mobile number and NRIC, which users have to enter to register.
There’s also a misconception about how the app works. It doesn’t track your location because it doesn’t need to.
If I had Covid-19 and visited a McDonald’s in Toa Payoh, it’s not the McDonald’s outlet that we should be worried about but the people I encountered in the fast-food outlet.
For instance, say we both visited the same McDonald’s store at the same time but came nowhere near each other. Our TraceTogether apps wouldn’t collect each other’s data because we weren’t close enough to spread the virus.
The only data it does collect are the numbers of those who come into contact with a confirmed coronavirus case.
But it won’t be there for long.
4. Data is Regularly Deleted From the System
If you happen to come into close contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case, then you’ll be contacted and notified by the Ministry of Health (MOH).
If you don’t, TraceTogether data that is older than 25 days will automatically be deleted.
Well, according to Women’s Weekly, all public-sector data protection rules apply to the data held by MOH.
This means that the ministry is required to purge data when it is no longer required for contact tracing.
5. It is Not Mandatory… Yet
When asked whether usage of the TraceTogether app would be made mandatory, Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said the adoption rate – which is 25% – “mathematically is still too low”.
It should be above 75%, he said.
While all workers staying in dormitories were required to download and use the app, it is not currently compulsory for members of the public to do so.
6. 2.1 Million People Have Downloaded It, But Many Are Not Turning It On
As we’ve previously reported, 2.1 million people have downloaded the app, but many are not turning it on.
This is a bit like buying an expensive car seat for your baby and making her drive you to work.
As Minister Gan Kim Yong said back in April, a significant portion of Singaporeans needs to turn it on for it to be effective.
“If only a small portion of Singaporeans have turned it on and the rest have not then when we want to trace, we would not have a significant number of contacts.”
7. You Don’t Need To Use Mobile Data At All
Unlike most apps, TraceTogether does not need continuous internet connectivity to function.
It only requires a Wi-Fi or data connection once a day in order to retrieve new temporary IDs from the server.
According to GovTech Singapore, this amounts to around 1MB a day; hardly anything at all.
But does it drain your battery?
8. It Doesn’t Drain iPhone Batteries Anymore
Back when it was first introduced, iPhone users who downloaded the app noticed it was draining their battery faster than they drained their cups of bubble tea.
At the time, Goody Feed had some useful advice for iPhone users who wanted to use the app without draining their batteries:
1. Fling your iPhone into the sea
2. Buy an Android phone
Thankfully, you won’t have to resort to disposing of your iPhones in large bodies of water because TraceTogether recently released an update that allows the app to run in the background on iPhones.
Previously, the app had to run in the foreground, which drained the battery and meant users could not use their phones for anything else, an issue Android users never had.
9. There’s Also a TraceTogether Token
One problem with the TraceTogether app is that you require a smartphone to use it, something many young children and elderly residents do not have.
This is why the TraceTogether Token was launched, a wearable contact tracing device that complements the existing app.
It works in the same way as the TraceTogether app, exchanging and logging Bluetooth signals between nearby devices that are in close proximity.
In response to privacy concerns, Dr Balakrishnan said that the TraceTogether token is not a tracking device nor an electronic tag.
“…to be technical, there is no GPS chip on the device. There isn’t even any Internet or mobile telephone connectivity,” he said.
The gahmen can’t track your location and movement without a GPS chip, of course. And without internet connectivity, there is “no possibility” of data being uploaded “without the participation and consent of the user,” said the minister.
10,000 senior residents have already received the first batch of devices, with many more to come.
For those who’ve not seen it, it looks a little like a Digimon device or pager. (If you don’t know what either of those two things is, then I’d like to thank you for making me feel old.)
Looks a tad plain, right? Fortunately, my colleague has come up with his own design that might prove to be the more popular choice.
You can think of it as a hard copy of the app.
10. 28 Other Countries Have Similar Contact-Tracing Apps
When you first heard about the app and token, you probably questioned if we were slowly turning into North Korea or living in George Orwell’s 1984.
But, as previously mentioned, the app was designed with users’ privacy in mind.
Moreover, 28 other countries have developed contact tracing apps of their own, so it’s not just Singapore who’s willing to brave the field of tracking to enhance contact tracing efforts.
Countries like India, Switzerland, Malaysia, Japan, have all launched contact tracing apps in the last few months, despite similar privacy concerns from its citizens.
Infections Are Bound to Rise
Given that political parties have gone out recently to campaign and residents have been staying indoors to party with their friends, infections are bound to rise in the coming weeks.
Downloading the TraceTogether app and turning it on would greatly aid the authorities in tracing the contacts of coronavirus patients quickly so they can be identified and quarantined to prevent further spread.
If you haven’t downloaded the app yet, here’s what you need to do:
1. Download the TraceTogether app or go to www.tracetogether.gov.sg.
2. Enter your Singapore-registered mobile number
3. Provide consent to register your number with TraceTogether and to share it with MOH if you are either identified as a confirmed Covid-19 case or a close contact.
4. Turn on Bluetooth and enable the necessary permissions for TraceTogether to function. Turn on push notifications so that you can be notified just in case your Bluetooth is switched off.
And voila! You’re now a part of the country’s fight against Covid-19.