The Indian Federation of App-Based Transport Workers (IFAT) called for “escalation and possible future proofing of how these surveillance and monitoring systems [such as Aarogya Setu] will affect” gig economy workers in a statement on June 4. The organisation, which represents over 35,000 workers in 12 cities, has a problem with tying Aarogya Setu to people’s ability to access services, regulate their movement and deciding if they can work.

IFAT fears this data would be used in “retaliatory or exploitative manner”:

  1. Retaliatory action against employees who collectivise: Using location and Bluetooth data, the company can monitor individuals or groups of individuals that they deem to be disruptive to their operations, and track people who are collectivising or meeting frequently. The companies may take punitive measures against them.
  2. Assign work on the basis of health details: Coupling the health data input into the Aarogya Setu app with health details entered into companies’ own service apps, companies may tailor the “quantum of work” allocated to each individual.
  3. Punitive action on the basis of health details entered in Aarogya Setu: If companies get access to the health data, they could terminate jobs or reduce their rides/deliveries if they self-report any symptom on Aarogya Setu. This could be used to ensure that companies don’t have to pay for workers’ insurance or treatment.
  4. Make salaries contingent upon downloading the app: Some companies have made workers’ pay conditional upon them downloading the app. IFAT has called this “coercion”.
  5. Lack of sunset clause on the app, personal data protection bill: For IFAT, in the absence of a sunset clause there are valid concerns related to “data being collected, snooping on an individual, accessing their contacts, camera, messages”. In the absence of a data protection law, there is a possibility of companies using this data “to intimidate or exploit them in future”. We asked Shaik Salauddin, the National General Secretary of IFAT how downloading Aarogya Setu would give the companies or Aarogya Setu developers more access to riders’ phones, but did not get a clear answer.

When we pointed out to Salauddin that these concerns would be realised only if the government shared this data with private companies, he sardonically laughed. In a country where the Supreme Court has disallowed private companies from asking for Aadhaar data but companies continue to do so with impunity, his sardonic laughter is warranted. “These apps are pressurising drivers to download Aarogya Setu,” Salauddin said.

“Some apps even threatened the drivers and delivery personnel that if they don’t download Aarogya Setu, the companies would not allow them to access their IDs on the service apps. Thus, a lot of people were coerced into downloading the app,” Salauddin said. In April, Zomato had made it mandatory for all its delivery personnel to download the app and said that it would allow them access to the Zomato Delivery Partner app only if they have the Aarogya Setu app installed and running in the background. Salauddin said that Swiggy had also made it compulsory for riders to have the app to access their Swiggy IDs. Moreover, eligibility for the “weekly incentive” for Swiggy riders is contingent upon downloading Aarogya Setu, according to Salauddin. We have reached out to Swiggy for comment.

Swiggy

The Swiggy app makes it obligatory for delivery personnel to download Aarogya Setu before beginning their shift. Courtesy: Shaik Saluddin

Urban Company (previously UrbanClap) too made it obligatory for its service providers, like plumbers, carpenters, electricians and disinfection workers to show customers their health status on the app to demonstrate that they are not a COVID-19 risk. Salauddin said that Ola plans to make app compulsory for its drivers while Uber was being more cautious since it is an American company. We have reached out to Ola for comment.

Eligibility for the “weekly incentive” is contingent upon downloading Aarogya Setu, Salauddin told us.

As in the IFAT statement, Salauddin also said that some apps have said that they won’t pay the riders/deliver personnel without Aarogya Setu. He named Dunzo and Rapido. Update June 12 10:24 pm: Dunzo declined to comment. We are awaiting a response from Rapido.

“If the companies are so interested in Aarogya Setu, why haven’t the companies integrated Aarogya Setu within the company app?” he asked. However, as of now, it is not possible to integrate Aarogya Setu with another app.

Apps are also collecting health data of riders

“In order to disburse funds that they raised for COVID-19 positive patients, Swiggy, Zomato, Ola are collecting health details of people through their own apps. The drivers/riders have to upload their bills, invoices within the app itself so that the companies can pay for their hospital expenses,” Salauddin said. We have reached out to the companies for comment.

Zomato personnel’s body temperature is visible to customers. Courtesy: Shaik Salauddin

Deliveries are more important to companies than riders’ safety, says IFAT general secretary

“The Aarogya Setu app doesn’t guide you about the Red Zones or Containment Zones. It does not tell you, say, 50 metres before the rider enters the Red Zone, that the rider will have to enter Red Zone. Riders needs to know before they deliver the order whether the order needs to be delivered in the Red Zone. Aarogya Setu tells you that you are surrounded by so many infected or at-risk people when you are within that zone. So where is the rider’s safety?” Salauddin asked.

“If the companies were so concerned, they could have identified Red Zones within their own apps and said that deliveries won’t happen in these regions. But you are still taking orders from customers in those areas because customers are important to you, not the riders. The companies don’t care how much their delivery boys suffer,” he said.

“Once Aarogya Setu informs the delivery boy that there are so many infected people around him, will he not deliver still? The delivery boy is yearning for the ₹25, ₹30. ‘Now that I am here, I have to deliver this. Where else will I keep this food?’ the delivery boy thinks to himself. And then the customer keeps calling the delivery boy, asking about his whereabouts, telling him that he is late,” he explained.

‘Is Aarogya Setu even useful?’ asks IFAT general secretary

“Until and unless everybody downloads the app, what is the point of this app?” Salauddin asked. “When say an Uber, Ola driver picks up passenger from airport, until and unless the passenger also has Aarogya Setu, there is no point to the app,” he said.

“Since Aarogya Setu involves exchanging data between mobile phones, if a passenger turns out to be a criminal, it will unnecessarily implicate the driver as well since they came in contact with each other.” This, of course, is possible, only if location data collected by the app is used for policing purposes, which, thus far, the app claims not to do.

“There is dual pressure on us because of the app — it exhausts our data, and then there is additional burden of being unsure of whether or not we are going in Red Zones or Containment Zones,” he said.

***Update (June 12 10:24 pm): Updated with response from Dunzo. Originally published on June 12 at 6:33 pm.