Over the weekend, Aarogya Setu released a new feature for Android users that allows users to find out the number of other Aarogya Setu users they have been in close proximity with since they installed the app or in the last 30 days. Under the health status on the home screen of the app, users can choose to view their Bluetooth contacts. This feature was formally released on Sunday but a Twitter user spotted it on Friday night. It is not available for iOS devices yet. The open-source Android code on GitHub has not been updated to show the code for this feature; the last update there was made a month ago.
As per the official Aarogya Setu Twitter account, to see the “indicative status” of the Bluetooth contacts, users must consent to upload their Bluetooth and location data, which is what was required. Without uploading the data, we could only see that we had 10 Bluetooth contacts, not their indicative status. “Indicative status” lists the number of Bluetooth contacts that are infected (red text), or at high risk (orange text), or at moderate risk (yellow text), or at low risk/healthy (green text). The indicative status of some users is marked as “unknown” (grey text) but it is not clear why. It could be because those users have not taken the self-assessment test on the app, but that is speculation at this stage.
The option to know the date, time and approximate location and duration of a Bluetooth contact is only available to users whose status has been assessed as “Moderate Risk” (yellow screen) or “High Risk” (orange screen), as per the official Twitter account. Since we were marked safe/low risk (green screen), we couldn’t access this extra information.
Whom will this information benefit? Since this information has been available to authorities since the app was launched, it is not clear whom this will benefit. Multiple media reports have shown that it is not easy for citizens to get tested, hospitals across the country are getting overwhelmed, and private labs and hospitals are scamming people by declaring them COVID-19 positive to extort money from them. In such a situation, where Bluetooth proximity cannot be accurately measured and a digital handshake does not actually mean contact (what if people were on two different floors or rooms or were in two cars in a traffic jam?) — something the Aarogya Setu Twitter account also acknowledges —, this may actually spread paranoia amongst people more than anything else instead of allowing users to “assess their risk”.