Updated: Jul 11
During this unprecedented time of crisis, many governments are implementing emergency tactics to protect the health of their citizens. For example, the Indian government has created an app for coronavirus contact tracing called Aarogya Setu that has over 100 million users. While this app has had major success across India, the ethics of its downloads are in question.
Although the official policy states that downloading the apps is completely voluntary, events in the Indian government’s past suggest otherwise. The common practice of requiring government workers to download technology and using private companies to force their employees to do the same has been a subject of many privacy laws. India has no national privacy laws in place, meaning that the government could potentially harvest the data collected from the app without the user’s knowledge. Although this unjust misuse of power has been pointed out by many advocates, the Indian government has been hesitant to release source code or information to the public.
Due to the possible consequences of not installing the app, the “mandatory” air around the downloading of the app has caused major concern–– some have gone so far as to deem it a violation of basic human rights. Reviewers at MIT only gave the app one star out of five because of the excessive amounts of data the app collects. It lost other points in categories such as transparency, limitations of data usage, and involuntary use, all of which corroborate the activists’ concerns. The fact that the app lacks these parameters makes it open for not only the Indian government to unethically collect and use data, but also for outside attackers to steal information as well.
However, current circumstances must be examined before deciding upon the ethical nature of the app. Due to the urgent nature of the pandemic, the Indian government was forced to rush out an initial version of the app before detailed policies or terms of service could be written up. With the public’s safety at the forefront of their mind, small but important details may not have been hammered out in time for the initial release.
Overall, it’s important to remember that public fear should never be harnessed for malicious intents and purposes and that public safety should be the government’s main focus during these unprecedented times.