Photo Credit: Google Play
As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across India, both the Central and State governments are ramping up efforts to fight the pandemic. Some of the measures that both the governments are adopting include ensuring strict lockdown procedures, curbing the movement of public transport, sanitisation of public spaces, etc. Additionally, several government bodies are relying on technology to spread information about the novel coronavirus pandemic. Both the Central and several State governments have developed their respective mobile applications in a bid to make citizens more aware of their surroundings and track the spread of the disease.
While some of these mobile apps are available on Google Play Store, others are yet to be released. However, with the development of several coronavirus-related apps, critics across social media platforms have raised concerns over users' privacy. For instance, some apps allow users to self diagnose the symptoms after taking a small survey but it is unclear how and where the government will store the given information, though some do have privacy policies in the apps.
It can be equally perplexing for a user to choose the ‘right app' as both the Central and State governments are launching multiple apps, almost offering the same features.
Here's a brief look into the coronavirus-related apps, launched by governments to tackle the pandemic. Do note, this is not a full list, but only those that have been launched thus far.
Corona Kavach is a COVID-19 tracker app, released by the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in association with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW). The mobile app is was launched on Google Play store but was unavailable at the time of publishing this article.
One of the main features of the Corona Kavach is that the app provides users with real-time location of 'infected users' whenever they activate the 'Kavach' feature present on the app. This will enable users to track infected people around their location. However, while doing this, non-infected users can also expose their real-time location, therefore, potentially exposing sensitive data.
The app further allows users to check real-time information on coronavirus-infected cases, the number of cured cases, and deaths due to the disease in the country. To use Corona Kavach, users need to further register with a one-time password (OTP) sent to the mobile number. Users can also go into the menu, and fill in the questionnaire to provide health details.
Test Yourself Goa app is developed by Goa Ministry of Health in collaboration with Innovaccer to fight coronavirus pandemic in the state. The official app description of Test Yourself Goa states that users here can self-diagnose coronavirus symptoms.
Based on the answers, the app further notifies the users whether they have coronavirus symptoms or not. The app privacy's policy does not specify how the user information will be store.
Currently, the app is available on Google Play. It is unclear whether the app will arrive on Apple devices or not. The launch of the app was also announced by Goa Health Minister Vishwajit Rane on Twitter.
To ensure that citizens under home quarantine in Tamil Nadu do not violate official guidelines, the State government collaborated with the Pixxon Ai Solutions to develop COVID-19 Quarantine Monitor app. To use the app, users need to log in with a Tamil Nadu-registered mobile number.
With the COVID-19 Quarantine Monitor, the government claims that both users and the state government can monitor the live location of citizens who are under home quarantine. The idea behind is to ensure that people especially those who are diagnosed with the disease are maintaining social distance. Users can also check coronavirus symptoms after providing relevant information via the app.
Similar to the Tamil Nadu government's COVID-19 Quarantine Monitor app, Quarantine Watch as the name suggests aims to monitor the location of all the citizens who are under home quarantine in Karnataka.
The app recently courted controversy after Karnataka Medical Education Minister Dr K Sudhakar directed all home quarantined citizens in the state to enroll themselves and send their selfies on an hourly basis. The decision was announced after citizens under home quarantine were found violating official guidelines.
However, observers have claimed that by doing this, the privacy of the users is at the risk of being exposed. In a series of tweets, the Internet Freedom Foundation also raised the matter.
Sending selfies every hour is an egregious breach of personal autonomy even at the times of a public health emergency due to Covid-19. We respectfully urge the Goverment of Karnataka to reconsider it's Carona App deployment and integrate privacy by design. @CMofKarnataka— Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) (@internetfreedom) March 30, 2020
To use the app, users again need to register with their state-registered mobile number. The app is developed by the Revenue Department of the Karnataka government and is available on the Google Play Store only.
Corona Watch is another mobile app by the Karnataka government that claims to show the locations of coronavirus-affected patients and their movement history of 14 days.
The app is developed by the Karnataka Geographic Information System Agency and requires access to the phone's location, media, storage, and network to function. Corona Watch further contains a map that shows spots visited by people who were later diagnosed positive with COVID-19. It also shows areas in Karnataka where people are under house quarantine. The map, however, only highlights the areas and does not reveal the address of the people.
People in Punjab can now get their curfew passes for emergencies, report mass gatherings, know home quarantine patients and foreign returned travellers, & do a lot more on the #COVA App, which will also soon provide facility to request for groceries and other essentials....(1/2) pic.twitter.com/P1IYDR4J9h— Government of Punjab (@PunjabGovtIndia) March 28, 2020
To use the app, users need to log in with their mobile number which does not need to be registered in Punjab. Once logged in, user's can view the dashboard featuring real-time coronavirus cases updates in the state. The app contains several other features such as preventive care information and other government advisories. Users can also apply for curfew passes via this app.
The Kerala government also stepped up efforts to launch their own app to ensure citizens' awareness over the coronavirus pandemic. The app appears to be developed by two different developers along with the State government, one for the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.
Unlike most of the other apps, GoK Direct does not require users to log in and is more like a coronavirus-news app.The app also provides various language options through which users can consume news related to the novel coronavirus.
Mahakavach is Maharashtra government's app to tackle coronavirus pandemic in the state. In response to Gadgets 360, developers of the app said that Mahakavach aims to improve two major processes essential for combating the virus. These include "contact tracing" and "quarantine tracking."
However, after we opened the app, the home page does not reveal the name Mahavach but rather shows the text "Private Kit". The app further asked for permission to access location, following which a new page opened. In the new page, we could see the news option that did not contain any information. It is interesting to note that while the app asked for location-permission, it indicated that the location data will not be shared outside.
There was also a mysterious import/ export option that asked for Google login details. At the bottom of the page, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology branding was noted.
The app is currently available on Google Play Store only and is developed by Maharashtra State Innovation Society.
COVID19 Feedback is another Android app developed by the Central government to tackle the coronavirus cases in India. The app has been designed to capture feedback on any treatment undergone by individuals.
However, the app asks for permission to access the phone's media in order to proceed. Users have pointed out that after providing credentials the screen remains blank for feedback. The app is currently available on Goole Play Store.
Meanwhile, the Central government is reportedly developing a CoWin-20 mobile app, that will provide information on the coronavirus-affected places across the country. The app is said to include more information on the pandemic and will eventually be available on both Google and Apple app stores. Reports suggested that the app is developed by NITI Aayog and is already being rolled out among a select group of users through an APK. Those who have accessed the app have also questioned the privacy of the user. The app, on the other hand, promises to keep the data encrypted.
Similarly, other states such as Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh have also reportedly launched their respective apps to tackle the disease and monitor citizens under home quarantine. The apps, Corona Mukt Himachal and SMC Convid 19 were reportedly rolled out, however, the apps were not available on the app stores when we tried finding them.
Moreover, three municipal corporations in Maharashtra have started using mobile phone apps specifically designed to help curb the spread of coronavirus, senior officials told PTI.
The corporations are reportedly using the Coviguard and Covicare apps - but the aforementioned applications were not found on the app stores.