That’s what I thought as I read the headlines, and those of you thinking about privacy are probably also shifting your eyes and thinking the same thing.
I’m sure y’all already know about how contact tracing, which the app helps tremendously, will help in combating COVID-19.
So before hearing what the experts say, let’s talk about TraceTogether a little.
Bluetooth and Privacy
On the assumption that claims given to us about the app are true, the app actually respects your privacy much more than whatever your phone already does.
Firstly, no personal particulars other than your phone number is needed for verification.
Furthermore, all logs will be stored locally in your phone in an encrypted form for 21 days, which covers the incubation period of the virus. These logs only contain a set of cryptographically generated temporary IDs, not your location data.
MOH will only take these logs under your authorisation if you come into close contact with any reported Covid-19 case.
If you did not come into close contact with any reported Covid-19 cases, TraceTogether data that are older than 21 days will automatically be deleted. So, there’s nothing to worry about.
Unlike Facebook, Google, and other apps on your phone, TraceTogether uses Bluetooth and not geolocation. Basically, it’s a “digital handshake” that tells other phones with the app on that they’ve been close to each other.
This is more clearly explained in a Reddit thread by u/Lethaldart, if you want the long version.
And the app is actually revolutionary enough that Apple, Google and more than 50 other countries contacted the TraceTogether team because the method addresses both privacy and tracing.
Need more proof? An article titled “Apple and Google are building a coronavirus tracking system into iOS and Android” by The Verge lists a method that is strikingly similar to TraceTogether on the same date that TraceTogether said Apple and Google contacted them.
With all that out of the way, let’s see what the experts have to say.
Disappointing Uptake, Should Be Mandatory
Dr Chia Shi-Lu, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health told The New Paper, “Contact tracing is one of the most important pillars to manage any outbreak, and leveraging on technology can make things easier. But the voluntary uptakes have so far been disappointing.”
As you can probably imagine, physically contact tracing is very time-consuming and labour intensive. Also, some people tend to forget where they’ve been. What did you have for lunch on 26 April 2020? Bet you didn’t remember it.
“The authorities can look into making the download automatic in smartphones, where people can have an opt-out.”
Essential Workers Must Download
Infectious disease specialist Leong Hoe Nam suggested that people should show the app on their smartphones, like the NRIC checks done at certain wet markets.
“At the least, all essential workers must download the app and see it as significant as wearing a mask when they step out of their homes.
“If the app finds one such person who crossed paths with an infected person, the authorities can locate and quarantine him straight away to stop further transmission.”
Useful In Cases Where Infected Do Not Know Who They Had Contact With
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, had previously said so last month. For TraceTogether to be effective as a contact tracing tool, at least 75% of the population needs to use it.
Currently, we only have 1 million downloads, but not all people who’ve downloaded it turn it on.
Some of you might remember a man who extracted his data from TraceTogether. Despite only going to his neighbourhood to dabao food, he had a surprisingly high amount of contact with other people.
Nothing Compared To Taiwan and South Korea
Dr Leong reminds us that the app is like a digital handshake and not a location tracker, but only uses Bluetooth to remember who we were in close proximity with.
He then added, “Many individuals call this a loss of civil liberties, but this is nothing to what Taiwan and South Korea did, where they tracked each phone’s locations and tracked everyone.”
Last Friday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said this in an online discussion on how Singapore and New York are battling Covid-19:
“There are individual rights of privacy, but if you don’t take care and cannot actively contact trace… you are putting other people at risk…
“If you weigh all of this, I think it comes down on the side of contact tracing, probably with the kind of app that resides in your phone.”
And if you finally decide to download the app, know that you have to turn it on for it to actually work.
You can read this article on what interesting tidbits a person found when he extracted the data of his TraceTogether app from his phone.