The Singapore government is making the code for a new mobile application open-source, thereby enabling it to be used and modified by developers worldwide to trace individuals infected with Covid-19.
TraceTogether was launched on March 20, 2020 to support ongoing contact tracing efforts amid the outbreak in Singapore. It was developed by the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and can be downloaded by anyone with a Singaporean mobile number and a bluetooth-enabled smartphone. By downloading the app and consenting to participate, users are able to “proactively help” in the tracing and identifying of infected individuals – an important step in winning the war against the coronavirus pandemic.
A supplementary tool to facilitate contact tracing
Contact tracing – or the process of identifying those who have had close contact with Covid-19 positive individuals – currently relies on the memories of those being interviewed. TraceTogether is described as a supplementary tool to facilitate these efforts. “The faster the contact tracing process can be initiated and can identify the people at risk, the faster we can intervene and impose quarantine if necessary and limit spread locally,” said Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister-in-Charge of GovTech, at a press conference.
The app is built on a combination of centralized and decentralized models of contact tracing with a technology called the BlueTrace protocol. As per BlueTrace’s spokesperson in a CNBC interview, its technology is being used at present to complement existing contact tracing methods and support nationwide efforts to combat COVID-19. “There are no plans to extend the use of TraceTogether for non-contact tracing purposes.”
Phones with the app exchange short-distance bluetooth signals to detect other app users who are two to five meters apart for 30 minutes. Records of these encounters are stored in their phones for 21 days. Location data is not collected; nor is the user’s phone contact list accessed. Users will only be asked to share these records when contacted by the MOH as part of contact tracing investigations. Those who refuse may be prosecuted under Singapore’s Infectious Diseases Act.
Trace Together is available on the Google Play Store and iOS App Store in Singapore. More new apps from different governments and countries are expected to be released as a result of the Singapore government opening access to its source code. The Quint notes that the app can also be tweaked to trace individuals afflicted with any other disease for any other possible outbreak in the future.