Progress Singapore Party (PSP) held a webinar on 13 May, titled “TraceTogether Goes OpenSource: Why It Matters!” featuring three panelists who shared their opinions about the adoption of the TraceTogether – contact-tracing mobile application – among Singaporeans.
The speakers were Deputy Head of Centre of Excellence for National Security, Benjamin Ang; Head Community Architecture and Leadership for Red Hat, Harish Pillay; and Privacy and Technology Lawyer for Pinsent Masons MPillay, Bryan Tan.
During the Q&A session, the panelists were asked about how the country can do better in encouraging every citizen to use the TraceTogether application and whether or not the Government should make it mandatory to install the application on their phones.
More incentives need to be put in to attract people to download the app, says Benjamin Ang
Mr Ang noted that for most people, privacy is not the first thing that comes to their mind when they install an application, instead, it’s about “is there something in it for me in this application?”
Other than good marketing, he pointed out that people want to see the benefit of installing the application. He added that the benefit of enabling the public to trace coronavirus infected individuals may not be “strong enough” to get people to install the app.
Mr Ang suggested to put in more incentives to attract people to install the TraceTogether app.
“I think it has to be also a push towards creating an incentive for people to install,” said Mr Ang.
While Mr Tan agreed with Mr Ang’s suggestion to create incentives, he suggested looking into the gamification industry.
Mr Tan shared his experience when he was traveling in Taiwan two years ago, he noticed that Taiwanese always collect the receipts of any purchases they made. In Taiwan, the Government will hold a lucky draw for the receipts collected and the winner would get prizes or cash awards.
“It’s a win-win situation. The Government gave away a million dollars every now and then to some lucky person to whom the receipts were bought,” he said.
Looking at the success rate of the Taiwanese Government’s method, Mr Tan opined that gamification, if applied correctly, will be “money well spent”.
Mandating someone to install an app on their phones and to use the app, that becomes “surveillance”, says Bryan Tan
In terms of mandating the installation of the TraceTogether app, Mr Tan indicated that it would become a “surveillance” if a person is being mandated to install an application in his or her personal devices and to use the app.
“When you talk about mandating someone to first install an app on their phones and then to turn that on, that becomes a different word, surveillance. You’re asking them to allow themselves to be surveilled,” he remarked.
Mr Tan explained that Singapore’s laws allow surveillance which is primarily cybersecurity laws.
However, he opined that if the installation is being made mandatory, the Government would need to “take the step very carefully”.
“But to roll that across the population, that’s something else we’re talking about. I think that’s a step, rightfully, that would have to be taken very, very carefully,” Mr Tan noted.
Mr Ang, on the other hand, noted that if something is being made compulsory, there may be a risk of creating an environment where people want to comply with the law but not the “spirit of the law”.
We have to always take consideration of privacy, says Harish Pillay
Mr Pillay stressed that people should always take consideration of privacy as it may cause some serious issues in the future.
“It is a constant battle trying to find a balance and this is a battle that all of us have to fight. It’s not just for the app developer or the agency. Each one of us has to understand what is it that we are giving because what happens today for this particular pandemic, we are using this app,” he remarked.
In TraceTogether app’s FAQ, it is stated that in six months after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, the user can uninstall the app.
“I am quite thankful that this app has got actually an expiry date,” said Mr Pillay. “We need to have a way to say, you must be able to sunset some of these applications. You should not be carrying it on and on.”
He further explained that the same code is being used in Australia.
“The point is, privacy is not something that you can say, ‘I don’t really care about it now’. You must consciously make the choice. If you don’t do it, when something comes back to you, you have no reason to raise an excuse,” Mr Pillay added.