If you’re in India, chances are your SMS inbox is deluged with messages from both businesses and government agencies asking you to download Aarogya Setu. The app, released on 2 April by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), is the latest weapon the government has drafted into its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
On the surface, the Aarogya Setu app is for contact tracing. It uses Bluetooth to keep a constant log of other app users who are near one another. Later, if a user tests positive for Covid-19, all Aarogya Setu users who were in her proximity can be notified to quarantine or get tested.
Tech giants and arch rivals Apple and Google Google The Ken Big tech makes a beeline for health data at hospitals Read more are joining forces to build a similar Bluetooth-based solution for their respective operating systems. That, however, could take months. For a country like India, which has been under nationwide lockdown for three weeks already, time is not a luxury it can afford.
With the number of Covid-positive patients nearing the 10,000 mark, the government is hoping Aarogya Setu could help expedite the end of the lockdown. Indeed, a University of Oxford study study University of Oxford Controlling coronavirus using a mobile app to trace close proximity contacts Read more shows that digital contact tracing can be effective—provided there’s widespread adoption. In the 10 days since its launch, the app reportedly has gained over 25 million unique users across both Android and iOS.
With India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, hinting that the app could also double as a movement pass during the lockdown, it will likely only gain more traction. However, even as the government is on a war-footing to promote the app, questions about its scope have already surfaced.
Unlike similar tools developed by other countries—like Singapore’s TraceTogether—cyber security experts say Aarogya Setu goes beyond just contact tracing.