Singapore said it won’t use a contact-tracing system jointly developed by
The city-state becomes one of the first countries to officially rule out the Apple-Google software called
After studying the technology, Singapore officials decided that they wanted a contact-tracing system with more detailed information and greater capability to sort through infection histories. The Apple-Google technology has to be integrated into public health apps.
“After careful consideration, we decided that it would be less effective in our local context,” Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative
On Monday, the government said it will further
“In my view, contact tracing remains a human endeavour requiring human judgment,” he wrote. “Our system will enable the contact tracers to identify the people, venues and activities that pose the greatest risk and enable us to take quick action to treat and isolate any potential patient. We need to entrust human contact tracers with information during this crisis.”
The policy decision illustrates how government priorities are clashing with privacy concerns in the era of the coronavirus. From Singapore to France and Australia, governments are looking to mobile apps to track and slow the spread of Covid-19. But limitations on data collection built into the smartphones of Apple and Google have hampered their capabilities.
Singapore is adopting an aggressive approach to combating the coronavirus. The city-state has developed its own mobile app called TraceTogether. It also plans to distribute a new portable, wearable device, called TraceTogether Token, to all of its 5.7 million residents. The token isn’t mandatory for now, though that may change depending on the take-up rate, Balakrishnan said last week.
Singapore is moving ahead despite rising privacy concerns among citizens. The TraceTogether app only needed a phone number to register when it debuted in March. But this month, authorities updated the app to include identification numbers of users and passport numbers for visitors to the country.
“The government may have decided to take a more aggressive approach afterwards,” said
The government’s TraceTogether Token program may cost roughly S$100 million ($72 million), based on the population and a previously awarded contract. Like its app, the token uses Bluetooth signals to record other nearby contact-tracing devices and would function in a similar way, according to the government. Balakrishnan has said the government won’t track locations of token users.
Balakrishnan said previously the TraceTogether app didn’t work as well on iOS or Apple devices since they suspend Bluetooth activity while the app runs in the background. He said the government has had talks with Apple on the issue but has yet to find common ground.
“We’ve had repeated discussions both at the technical and policy level with Apple, but we have not yet been able to find a satisfactory solution,” he said.
PCI Pte., a privately-held Singaporean electronics firm,
(Updates with Singapore’s easing from the fifth paragraph)
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