The Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) jointly launched a mobile app called TraceTogether on March 20 to support efforts to trace contacts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
TraceTogether uses Bluetooth signals between phones to identify other users who also have the app installed. This allows encounters and timestamps to be tracked when users come close to each other.
If it is confirmed that a person has the virus, MOH can ask them to share their TraceTogether data.
Rather than replacing existing contact tracking efforts, this helps simplify the process by filling in gaps in people's memories.
Contact tracking is a complex process in which patients are interviewed and asked to list every place they have been and everyone they have met in the past 14 days.
It is not unlikely that respondents are sometimes unable to access all of their contacts or have their contact information available.
People who are not known to be infected themselves but who have been identified as having close contact with a COVID-19 case can also be informed earlier
Because TraceTogether users can be identified faster than close contacts with COVID-19 cases, they can be informed earlier to take the necessary measures, such as monitoring their health status for flu-like symptoms.
"Early detection may help reduce the risk of the virus spreading and better protecting our families and loved ones," said GovTech and MOH in a press release.
Screenshots from the TraceTogether app
In terms of privacy, users of the app only need to provide their Singapore phone number for verification. No other personal information such as the name of the user or the NRIC is collected.
It also does not keep track of the user's location, just keeps a log of their TraceTogether encounters that is stored locally on their phone.
These logs do not contain the user's phone number, but instead use a series of "cryptographically generated temporary IDs".
"The authorities, including MOH and GovTech, are not aware of the user's TraceTogether data," the press release said.
TraceTogether data only leaves a user's phone if the user agrees to send it to MOH on request.
At the TraceTogether press event, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong encouraged Singaporeans to download the app and proactively support contact tracking efforts.
According to the TraceTogether website, the app has had around 600,000 users since then.
It can be downloaded from the App Store for iOS and from Google Play for Android users.
Selected image source: Vulcan Post