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Aarogya Setu will include telemedicine, greater personalisation; may act as building block for India Health Stack

aarogya setu

Aarogya Setu will soon integrate telemedicine video consultations and “greater personalisation in terms of better data collection” in its interface, Arnab Kumar, the Program Director of Frontier Technologies at NITI Aayog who is spearheading the project on the government side, and Jay Dutta, Senior Vice President (UX Design) at MakeMyTrip and a private volunteer who developed the app, revealed during a virtual panel organised by Association of Designers of India (ADI). The app may also function as the “initial building block for India Health Stack”, Kumar said, though he clarified that Aarogya Setu has no life beyond the pandemic.

  • Telemedicine video consultations will be integrated in the app “so that people don’t have to step our of their homes”, Kumar said. It is not clear how so much health data will be collected and processed in a secure manner by this changing team of developers and designers, especially in the absence of a Personal Data Protection law.
  • “Greater personalisation in terms of better data collection,” Dutta said. It is not clear what would need to be personalised. One of the key principles of privacy-by-design, that Aarogya Setu claims to adhere to, is data minimisation. Any king of content aggregation and personalisation requires more data collection about usage habits, not less.
  • Building block for India Health Stack: “What we may have stumbled upon is the initial building block for India Health Stack so everything else apart form COVID-19 which could be linked to telemedicine, tele-consultation, etc., if people are interested, can survive beyond COVID-19, but whatever data is used for contact tracing has no life beyond this pandemic,” Kumar said. He called it a “temporary solution to a temporary problem”. However, readers should note that the app’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy do not have a sunset provision, or any clause that categorically states that the app would cease to exist after the pandemic is dealt with. If anything, with this large scale function creep, it is more likely that the app will be repurposed.

The aim is to make Aarogya Setu “one-stop solution for everything related to COVID,” Arnab Kumar, the Program Director of Frontier Technologies at NITI Aayog who is spearheading the project on the government side, said. This way, the app will act as the “single source of information” about the disease and people will not have to rely on WhatsApp forwards, Kumar said.

Aarogya Setu could also be used as a tool to lift lockdown restrictions and to cause people to migrate to smartphones.

“We have been discussing at NITI Aayog how to systematically remove the lockdown at least for people who are involved in certain sectors, manufacturing, etc. The idea is can we actually motivate people to help use this situation to migrate from feature phones to smart phones. Can some of the business owners finance smartphones for their workers because there is a cost to not attending work every day? Can we actually use this opportunity to [improve] smartphone penetration?” — Arnab Kumar, NITI Aayog

The developers are in the process of building an app for Jio feature phones that run on KaiOS, and will set up an IVRS for feature phones.

Upcoming features of Aarogya Setu

In its fourth iteration, Aarogya Setu will have a Media tab, a Trending Now section, and a section that tells users how long their Bluetooth and GPS services have been active, Dutta said.

Aarogya Setu Version 4

The upcoming UI of Aarogya Setu would look like this and include a Media tab, Trending Now section, and status of Bluetooth and GPS usage. Screenshots shared by Jay Dutta during the virtual panel.

  • Video integration: “There is a lot of information and videos out there, such as on how to make your own mask. … We want to integrate this kind of content and put that in,” Dutta said, “kind of like TikTok”. This could also include “great recipes for the lockdown and beyond”, Dutta said. Earlier this week, the app had introduced an e-pass tab. It is not clear why the developers and designers would want to weigh a contact tracing app down with so many extra features.
  • Use of illustrations, GIFs “to tell better stories”, Dutta said. “Right now, it is still a very functional app,” he continued.
  • Tips to optimise usage of Bluetooth and power: “How do we help you make better usage of your Bluetooth, power consumption? What happens to a guy who doesn’t have a place to charge? How do we help him maximise it [battery life]?” Dutta said. We had earlier raised this question to Zomato as well which has mandated that all its delivery personnel must download the app and have it running in the background.

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