Contact Tracing, Aarogya Setu and Privacy
SARS-Cov-2, a nightmare for most of the world leaders right now and a really dangerous virus that causes the Novel COVID-19 disease is dominating the news these days. And if you think about it, it has all the reasons to. These are some key sources of news for our Indian media:
1) What our prime minister (Mr. Narendra Modi) says
2) What POTUS (Mr. Doanld Trump) says
3) What Mr. Vladimir Putin says
4) What Pakistan says
5) What the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) says
6) What chief ministers say
7) What opposition says
8) And finally the regular burglary, murder, rape and 100 different inhumane things that happen in our society (for which we are usually the least worried about)
Now as of April 17th, 2020, India is under a Total Lockdown since March 25th, 2020. This lockdown is officially extended till May 3rd, 2020 which
might / might not get extended. Because of the situation, all the above-mentioned people are just talking about COVID-19 disease. And there is a lack of people on streets and a lot of police force to commit anything mentioned in (8). Well, of course, criminals won’t stop. Will they? After all, this is the
When India imposed a total lockdown, the total cases in India used to be around 600. India was one of the most proactive countries in imposing Lockdown. However, there were some issues here and there. Some migrant workers crisis, whose solution no one knew. Both sides were leading to the deaths of many. If you send them home, the virus can get in the village areas of India where community spread is a very risky thing to have. If you don’t send them back home, India doesn’t have that kind of infrastructure to just arrange food and shelter for all of them overnight. So, anyone with a sound mind and trying to understand the situation would understand the both, the urge of the workers to go back home because of the fear from getting infected by a coronavirus in cities and not getting food for a long time and, the difficult situation all the state governments and the central government was in.
Sure, there could have been a possibility of having a better infrastructure from day 0, but these are the things we need to learn from this pandemic and do something about it before something similar of this sort happens again. But there is no point in discussing what was done by the past governments to tackle this and why we were not prepared, to be honest, no one was. What we rather need to discuss is how can we stop this now. What can we do to make sure minimum damage happens? What can we do to flatten the curve? What can we do to make sure that the lives of all our doctors, health workers, and all other frontline workers are easy and simple?
Summary of what happened
A pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan, China was first reported to the WHO Country Office in China on 31 December 2019.
The outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020.
On 11 February 2020, WHO announced a name for the new coronavirus disease: COVID-19.
India has around 15,000 cases of COVID-19 as of today.
World Economy and Lockdowns
I am not an economist, but even a layman would understand how we are looking at depression and a potential breakdown of the world economy. Some reports say that India, China, and a few other countries would suffer less as compared to other countries. But India is still going to suffer. We are now a close to $3 Trillion economy, and $12 Trillion (PPP) economy. We used to have a growth rate of around 6-7%. Which is now projected to be around 1% or 1.5%. Large companies are already rescinding job offers in IIT Delhi and some other premier institutes. Students in IIT Mandi have been lucky enough to not see that phase.
Lockdowns have been implemented throughout the world, and these lockdowns are the main reason for this economic crisis and almost every country in the world is trying hard to get rid of them as soon as possible and resume all the economic activities.
Testing in India
The testing in India is relatively good if you look at the total tests performed. Per capita tests are of course low because of the insanely large population. Now as the testing in India is free for everyone, and the treatment of COVID-19 is free for almost 500 Million People, that is huge money that is put from the government’s side. If you fo the math and come at around 10,000 tests per 1 Million population (Near the datapoint of the USA), you would have to do almost 1,40,00,000 tests. Please count the zeros, that is 1.4 Crore COVID-19 Tests. For people outside India, that is 14 Million Tests as compared to 3.4 Million in the USA. Now in the USA, the test is not free. And it is a rich country. Each test in India costs around ₹4,500. If you further do the math, that adds up as 2000 Crores spent on testing alone when we can rather do it smartly. Also, please double this figure if you wish to come close to Italy. 
Some of you may say, Rapid Test is a thing! Yes, it is. But it is to note that it has less accuracy as compared to the regular RT-PCR Lab test. Also, the rapid tests are recently approved, cheap but the borderline is that it detects antibodies and not the virus. So, the result not only depends on when the person is tested but also varies from person to person. However, the Government of India recently received a consignment of 5 lakh(500k) rapid tests from China.
Another point to note is that the world is having a shortage of these types of equipment and we can’t expect the government to procure lakhs of kits in a single day. However I feel, the rapid testing should have already started But anyways, better late than never. Nevertheless, the lab tests are always the most reliable and if we have a significant number of lab tests done in the country, we should be happy about it.
I will like to put an excerpt from the blog  by a person I deeply appreciate, Armin Ronacher .
I had conversations with a lot of people over the last few days about contact tracing apps and I noticed — particularly from technically minded people — an aversion against the idea of contact tracing via apps. This does not surprise me, because it’s an emotional topic. However, it does hammer home a point that people are very good at misjudging data privacy. Almost every person I know uses Google maps on their phone with location history enabled. With that, they also participate in a large data collection project where their location is constantly being transmitted to Google. They use this information to judge how fluid traffic is on the road, how many people are at stores, how busy public transit is etc. All that data is highly valuable and people love to use this data. I know I do. I’m also apparently entirely okay with that, even though I know there is an associated risk.
Also, we usually do use all these services by Google(permanently). Similarly, there are many more privacy breaches that we tolerate so easily. Now, we know the condition of this country. We have way too many people, and way too few resources. Sure, we are better off than many countries, I am not saying that we are bankrupt, but we are poor. We don’t have oil, we don’t have any source of income as of now. You and I both know that if the situation gets worse, India will collapse. People will die, more than they did in Italy, USA, Spain, China and any other country you can name.
We need to do something about it. Also, we are such a big country that finding a person even in a 1 km area is like finding a needle in the haystack. So the government introduced a contact tracing app called
Aarogya Setu. Yes, I know what you are thinking. You have started to think about your privacy. While I respect that, I also beg you to look at the other point of view. This virus is being spread by a relatively rich category of people, and smartphone penetration in India is record-breaking high. If used well, this app can help us contain the spread. This app can make the fall in the economy relatively shorter. Lockdown can open, economic activities can resume. All the government asks you is your location data for a few days. I know this is a dilemma, well what is not? If we are unlucky enough to witness a community spread in India, the dilemma will become who out of these 1000 people to save? Our backbone will break.
What else can I do? If you are too concerned about privacy, I suggest you restrict the location permissions of the app to only when the app is being used. This will still let the app do the contact tracing using BlueTooth. Otherwise, please help the government in this. We are not Europe/USA who will rise back easily after a downfall in the economy (well probably even they can not!).
I feel giving the location data to the government for a few days is much better than being a reason for the death of millions of people. People outside in India don’t understand this scale. Everything in India happens on a humongous scale. Be it development, revolutions or deaths. If you can save this nation, please do! We are fighting a winning fight so far! Don’t let that turnaround.
If you would like to have a conversation about this, maybe understand my point better, drop me an email (email@example.com) and we can talk. Thanks for reading.
If you have a better solution or a vague idea on how we can tackle this. I am all ears, and I am all in. Please feel free to schedule a call with me and we will try to figure out something!