Thursday, 26 March 2020 09:12

Singapore open-sources app for tracking coronavirus contacts Featured

Singapore open-sources app for tracking coronavirus contacts Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

The Singapore Government has announced that it would provide the source code for an app known as TraceTogether which uses Bluetooth technology to track people who have been within two meters of coronavirus patients.

The app was launched last Saturday by Dr Janil Puthucheary, senior minister of state at Singapore's Ministry of Communications and Information.

In a statement on Facebook, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Monday that the source code for the app, which has been developed by the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and the Ministry of Health, would be made freely available.

Dr Balakrishnan, who is also the Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, said: "We believe that making our code available to the world will enhance trust and collaboration in dealing with a global threat that does not respect boundaries, political systems or economies. Together, we can make our world safer for everyone."

Once someone gets infected, state authorities can track other infected people with whom the person in question has been in contact.


Courtesy Government Technology Agency, Singapore

Jason Bay, senior director of Government Digital Services at GovTech and leader of the team that developed TraceTogether, said in a post about the app that Bluetooth had been used because GPS, while good in open spaces, fared poorly when it came to indoor and urbanised settings.

In Singapore, people live mostly in apartments. Said Bay: "If you are one floor down in a building, your GPS location could look the same as someone in the floor above you because of signal reflections and multipath propagation effects."

He said the use of GPS would also raise privacy and data security concerns and if users were reluctant to use the app because of such concerns, its efficacy would be greatly hampered.

“So instead of attempting to tackle the issue of contact tracing by answering the question of ‘where,’ we address contact tracing by answering the question of ‘who’,” Bay explained.

“After all, you could argue that the virus doesn’t care where transmission happens; it’s only interested in whether there is a hospitable host in close contact.”

TraceTogether only needed Location Permissions to know the relative distance between users and it did not collect or use any real-world geographic location, he added.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.



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