WebGyan with Prof.V Kamakoti | Contact Tracing and Aarogya Setu

Event date and time: 
Thursday, August 27, 2020 - 16:00
In this WebGyan session, Prof. V. Kamakoti of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, IIT Madras, spoke about 'Contact Tracing and Aarogya Setu'. COVID-19 arrived suddenly in India, and there was an urgent need for contact tracing and data on positive cases. This kick-started the effort to build the Aarogya Setu application, and the digital contact tracing it allows. Prof. Kamakoti outlined the functioning of the app, the challenges of developing it, and the insights it offers as a case study for the future of data-driven interventions for healthcare and other fields. 

A remarkable aspect of the development of the app is that it was made operational in a month, and has since been downloaded by millions throughout India in the ensuing months. The development of the app is an example of the ways collaboration across disciplines and physical divisions has flourished in the pandemic period. Prof. Kamakoti highlighted the interdisciplinary conversations and efforts that went into Aarogya Setu, from computer scientists, epidemiologists, statisticians, to social scientists and legal experts.
Engineering a large-scale system like Aarogya Setu needs careful attention at all levels. For the data of a cyber-physical system to be properly sensed and analysed is vital, or the data does not help anyone. The sensing system the app relies on a combination of self-reporting and through the use of bluetooth signal of smartphones, which interacts with the signal of other users of the app. At the intermediary level, the app has to be compatible across various operating systems and ensure the anonymity of users. The analysis of the data is key to the action or follow-up on the information users provide for a particular region. In this case, the region is decided based on the sub-post office the individual lives closest to.

The question of the data privacy of users, and anonymity has often come up, and Prof. Kamakoti referred to some of the safeguards in place to keep the data of users anonymous. There is a measure to delete personal data such as the name, phone number, gender, age, and profession from the app after a certain period of time, and then have only the anonymised aggregates. Whether these aggregates and the long-term data from the app will become available to future researchers is still not clear.  

Contact Email: 
BLiSC Communications Office