App against the virus How Singapore uses cell phone data

The Singapore government is already using an app to fight the pandemic and is using Bluetooth to transmit cell phone data. The government claims that privacy remains protected.

The fight against the corona virus sounds like this in Singapore: “Singapore, we stick together – Singapore, we win together”, sings the choir of the Fairfield Methodist School. The songs about Corona could now fill an entire album, the fight against the virus is considered a national task.

“Test, isolate, isolate” is the motto, rigorously. Apparently it works: the number of active cases has even decreased slightly in the past few days. It was 423 on Tuesday morning. Active cases are corona patients in the hospital, so ultimately the decisive figures when it comes to the capacity of a health system.
A fifth of Singaporeans use the app

Singapore’s newest weapon in the fight against Corona is the application “Trace Together”, in English “track down”. The government is promoting the download of the app on the Internet, radio, television, newspaper advertisements and on posters.

For 21 days, the app uses the Bluetooth radio standard to record the mobile data of everyone who is close to the individual smartphone user. This means those people who also have “Trace Together” installed on their cell phones. So far, that is almost a fifth of all Singaporeans.

“If one of them tests positive for Covid-19, I and all other contacts of the infected person will be informed immediately,” said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong. “You then know very early and can isolate yourself in quarantine to protect your family or go to the doctor.”

“App does not save a location”

When the German health minister Jens Spahn wanted to create a legal basis for the collection of cell phone location data, the outrage was great. Because the German concept would have used radio cells and would enable complete movement profiles. This is horrible for data protection experts.

Singapore’s “Trace Together”, on the other hand, uses the Bluethooth transmission technology. It is installed in all modern smartphones and can establish a radio connection to other devices over short distances. On the one hand, this is much more precise, on the other hand, it cannot be used to create movement profiles, Singapore Health Minister Gan Kim Yong assures: “For those who are concerned about their privacy, I can guarantee that this app does not save their whereabouts, but only which mobile phones are closest where they are and where they’re going doesn’t matter. “

Common good before personal freedoms

However, the government knows who owns all of the registered cell phones. It also controls these people when in doubt. If you are in a home quarantine, you must constantly prove that you are actually in your home using the GPS of your mobile phone or spontaneously requested mobile phone photos of your surroundings. Personal freedoms always lag behind the common good in Singaur.

In Germany, data protection would probably be an issue. Experts also think it is possible to modify the “Trace Together App” so that it does completely without personal data. The advantage would be that you would not have to develop anything completely new: Singapore has announced that it will make the source code available to other nations at any time.

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