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techreview217 karma

Hi -- We're not tracking the safety of apps with this project. We're tracking how the apps work (in Aarogya Setu's case, it uses Bluetooth and location data) and how the data is used, what kind of data it collects, if the data is ever destroyed, if the app is voluntary, and if the project is transparent. Some of those questions can also help you figure out if the app is safe for you.

In India's case, the app is not voluntary, data use is not effectively minimized or limited, and it's not been a particularly transparent effort. It does have over 100 million users and offers a wide range of services that no other app does.

It's a complicated decision, we're trying to provide more data to help inform people but we are not making recommendations. - Patrick

techreview204 karma

Good question. We previously looked at technical issues surrounding the use of Bluetooth and we're looking at location data now. The short answer is that the precision and accuracy of location data varies drastically.

Triangulation depends on many variables (for instance, is your phone even connected to three towers? In rural areas, the answer could be as low as 0 towers.) but it boils down to the best case scenario being 3/4 of a mile precision which is not precise enough on an individual level but which can provide aggregate data that could in theory help understand an outbreak. To point out the other method being used for location tracking, GPS is generally far more precise in good conditions but also depends on many variables including the weather, your hardware, whether you're inside or outside, and availability of satellites.

All of that adds up to some problems that are impossible to pin down exactly but which are definitely significant. To answer your question (in what I'm sure is a pretty unsatisfying way, I'm sorry about that), yes it can be (and is being) used for contact tracing if needed but there will be significant problems including false positives and negatives that has to be accounted for.

There's another side/cost to location tracking which is the privacy dimension. That varies from project to project and it wasn't the point of your question so I won't delve into it but I felt it had to be at least pointed out. - Patrick

techreview130 karma

India's app is not open source right now, the project is not particularly transparent at the moment, and it doesn't have strong governance at this time so it lacks stars from us on all those accounts. So the answer to your question is that we don't know and we tried to have our database reflect those major blindspots. - Patrick

techreview79 karma

Hi! Tate Ryan-Mosley here, one of the authors. It's a really great question because, yes, adoption rate is a direct link to efficacy. That said, efficacy of these apps is still really unclear. In short, we are tracking them. There isn't a lot of data on user downloads yet, so we decided to not include it in the skeleton database that you see embedded in our article, but you can find it in this public database - https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ATalASO8KtZMx__zJREoOvFh0nmB-sAqJ1-CjVRSCOw/edit.

techreview59 karma

This is Benji. Patrick also recently wrote this story about Aarogya Setu: https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/05/07/1001360/india-aarogya-setu-covid-app-mandatory/