After months of beating around the bush, India has said it will release the source code of its Coronavirus tracker app known as Aarogya Setu.
— Aarogya Setu (@SetuAarogya) May 26, 2020
NITI Aayog, a policy think tank of India, said it would publish the source code of the Aargoya Setu Android app on GitHub. Moreover, there will be a bug bounty program where security experts can get up to $1,325 for reporting vulnerabilities in the app.
The Indian government has been actively pushing millions of its citizens to download India’s coronavirus tracker app. Apart from heavy advertising, the government previously mandated the app for many citizens.
In one state, it even set up fines and severe punishment if people were found avoiding the installation of the app. This and the influence of Narendra Modi led government brought over 114 million users of Aarogya Setu in just 41 days.
There were also reports that the Indian government might force manufacturers as well to pre-install the Aarogya Setu app on smartphones sold across the nation.
However, the government’s advocacy for the app has also made security experts and privacy advocates skeptical about the real motives of the app.
Since the app uses location as well as Bluetooth for contact tracing (a way to find if you were in proximity to COVID-19 positive people), experts have questioned how the government plans to keep user’s data safe.
A few days ago, app officials confirmed that Aarogya Setu “by design” collects users’ data, and stores the location information of Coronavirus patients on government servers. Meanwhile, MIT researchers gave the app a one-star rating out of five in their review of the app and said it lost points due to low transparency and extreme data collection.
This resulted in several people demanding the app to be open-sourced. However, app officials said that would overburden the team.
Now that the government has finally decided to release the source code of contact tracing app, all the skepticism around the app will eventually come to a rest.
“Open-sourcing Aarogya Setu is a unique feat for India. No other government product anywhere in the world has been open-sourced at this scale,” said Amitabh Kant, NITI Aayog’s chief executive, in a press conference.
The government has also said the source code for the Aarogya Setu iOS and KaiOS apps will be released in the next few weeks. However, it noted that over 98% of users are on its Android version.