Forced to download TT & SGSecure: The startling truth hidden in the reviews of government apps

In the light of grievances being aired relating to Singapore government apps—namely the technical issues with the TraceTogether app as well as the government’s revelation that the data from the app is accessible to the police despite earlier assurances that the data will only be used for contract tracing purposes—something peculiar and somewhat disturbing was highlighted in a reddit/r/Singapore thread.

Specifically, that many people have been forced to leave positive reviews on government apps in order to boost the app ratings on both the Appstore and Google Playstore.

A couple of people who were full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) noted that they were forced to download the TraceTogether app or sign up for extra duty shifts, or even be charged for insubordination.

This prompted several other reddit users to share about how they were forced to download the government’s anti-terrorism app, SGSecure and leave a positive review, while they were serving their national service. They, too, were faced with the same threat of signing up for extra shifts if they did not download the app.

One person even said that they could be “literally charged for Disobedience of General Orders” for not downloading the app.

This extends to apps, as another person said they were asked to ‘like’ Facebook pages that were associated to the Ministry of Defence and to leave positive reviews for the NS cookhouse.

Sifting through the thousands of reviews of the SGSecure app on both the Apple Appstore and Google Playstore revealed two things.

First, many 5-star reviews that were hyperbolic in describing the effectiveness of the SGSecure app. It is arguably one of the best displays of Singapore’s unique brand of humour on the internet.

On a more serious note, there were also many 1-star as well as 5-star reviews in which people stressed that they had only downloaded the app because they were forced to while they were serving national service.

The SGSecure app was released back in 2016 as part of a slew of measures for the SGSecure national movement which is aimed at uniting people in the face of terror threats as well as providing training on how to prevent and respond to such attacks.

Reviews from back in 2016 were mostly about malware and viruses which were infecting devices due to the app.

After that, though, the reviews were full of people complaining that they were forced to download the app, as well as the sarcastic ones about how the app saved them from a runway train and such.

It is not a leap to imagine that the government had NSFs download the app and leave positive reviews in order to boost the app’s credibility and justify the need for the app in the first place.

As for the TraceTogether app, we couldn’t find any reviews about people being forced by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) or the Singapore Police Force (SPF) to download the app or leave positive reviews.

What we did find were reviews about how people were upset that they had to download the app due to a government mandate, yet the app is still plagued by battery drainage and bluetooth issues.

Many people feel like they are forced to download the app as the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) announced back in 20 October 2020 that TraceTogether-only SafeEntry will be progressively implemented at popular venues by the end of 2020 such as workplaces, schools, malls, food and beverage outlets and hotels across Singapore.

The TT reviews are also filled with comments about privacy concerns and the government’s u-turn on how the data would be utilised.

TraceTogether has a 2.4 stars rating on the Appstore. While on the Playstore it’s roughly the same at 2.5 stars. The TraceTogether app, however, has been downloaded over 1 million times on Android.

According to the Singapore Government Developer Portal, the app has been downloaded over 4.2 million times by Singapore residents as of 6 January 2021.

TraceTogether app rating for iOS (left) and Android

As for the SGSecure app, it is rated 2.5 stars out of 5 on the Apple Appstore. While on the Google Playstore, it’s rated 4.5. Though we note that a majority of the 5-star reviews on Google were the sarcastic ones, which has inflated the app’s rating.

The all has also been downloaded over 100,00 times on Android. The numbers are likely higher for iOS, based on the TT download ratios.

It is also clear that the Government still pushing hard for more people to download SGSecure by all the advertising and publicising it has done.

SGSecure app rating for iOS (left) and Android

TOC has reached out the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for comments.