In an emailed circular to these platforms, which ET has seen and reviewed, the ministry officials wrote, “…in the larger public interest as well as to fight this health emergency situation, you are requested to use your fullest capacity to outreach your users and making them aware and promoting the installation of the Aarogya Setu app on a priority basis.” The platforms, the letter added, had to commit a minimum contribution of users “within a week’s time”, with a progress report to be shared with the ministry on a daily basis.
A senior Meity official, while confirming the circular, told ET on a condition of anonymity, “Every company in the physical and the digital world is doing it. Our aim is to reach out to all the mobile users in the country while ensuring the privacy and security of every user. We are trying, in all possible manner, to reach out to the people.”
The official added, “This is an unprecedented situation. By the time the lockdown opens, such apps will become very important. We are trying to reach out through social media, and leverage their strength and innovation in this regard to inform users about the availability, features and the benefits of the app.”
The request also comes a few days after the app crossed over 10 million downloads on the Google Play Store, while on the iOS App Store, it was the top-ranked app in the Health and Fitness category.
A Google spokesperson in an emailed response to ET’s queries said, “We are committed to offering our support to not-for-profit developers, State and local health agencies offering publicly available crisis response apps and sites in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have introduced Ads grants, Google Maps Platform Crisis Response credits and are offering our support for the APIs and SDKs that are most commonly used for crisis response implementations.”
The spokesperson added, “In addition, to help surface authoritative information during these exceptional times, we are working closely with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and other ministries including the PMO, to better enable people to find authoritative and helpful information around coronavirus (COVID-19) across our products and platforms.
ET reported that the Aarogya Setu app could find purposes beyond its core, citizen-facing contact-tracing use case and that the government had enlisted the help of telecom companies, banks and other institutions with large distribution networks to create awareness and drive installation of the app.
The app, top sources said, could be used to “understand the disease” and help with other aspects such as predictive modelling, and using aggregated, anonymised data generated by the app to manage the lockdowns. The urgency from the government to create awareness and drive installs is understandable, given that the app will only gain full efficacy once the lockdown is lifted, and people start moving.