The TraceTogether wearable token caused a big kerfuffle when it was announced, with many people worried about potential privacy infringement issues, rightfully so.
The thought of a device tracking and uploading people’s movements is terrifying, with far-reaching ramifications aside from just privacy.
The concern displayed by Singaporeans was so immense that the government actually clarified key points about the TraceTogether token during a Covid-19 briefing. The segment from the Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, can be watched above, but we’ve condensed the main points for easy reading.
Question 1: Will the TraceTogether wearable token track and upload my movement history?
Answer: There’s no GPS chip or Internet connectivity on the token, so the data collected is actually by using Bluetooth technology to ping onto other Bluetooth devices in order to collate data on which devices have been in close contact. The data will actually be encrypted and stored on the device up to a maximum of 25 days. Older data will automatically be deleted past that timeline.
Technically, the device isn’t able to track your location. But if you consider that malls and other public places already have Bluetooth devices that ping any other devices that enter its radius to track footfall and other metrics, a location map can still be drawn up if so required.
Question 2: How will the data be collected?
Answer: The data is stored on the device, so when a person is diagnosed with Covid-19, the government will have to take the device and upload the data manually to construct an activity map.
Question 3: Who will have access to my data?
Answer: “Only a very limited restricted team of contact tracers” will be able to access the data once the device is handed over to the authorities, according to Dr Balakrishnan. The tracers will also be covered by the Official Secrets Act and the government will audit to make sure no data leakage occurs.
Question 4: Is the token mandatory?
Answer: Currently, the government has stated that they believe adoption rate of TraceTogether can be increased voluntarily but did not rule out the possibility of making the token mandatory depending on how the situation in Singapore plays out.
Right now, the token can be used in conjunction with the TraceTogether app. It seems like this is a solution for people who don’t want to use the app on their phone due to battery issues (iPhone users) or just people who might not have a smartphone.
Question 5: When and how will the token be available?
Answer: It’s expected to roll out in late June, according to Dr Balakrishnan, and the expected methods of collection will be similar to the earlier rounds of mask distribution – through community centres and possibly vending machines.
While there are still questions about the hardware and software of the token and certain privacy concerns might not be fully assuaged, this will most likely be a good step forward in trying to increase the adoption rate of people using TraceTogether.
Hopefully, we will get to hear more about the plans the government has for the future of the token going ahead.