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GS-II : Governance

Fine-tuning the State-of-the-app technology

  • 10 February, 2021

  • 8 Min Read

Fine-tuning the State-of-the-app technology

Context

  • WhatsApp had announced an upcoming change to its privacy policy, which led to growing concerns around privacy among many users, and who started switching over to other messaging services such as Signal and Telegram.

Platforms and COVID-19

  • The issue of privacy is crucial for government technology platforms and services as governments typically have a monopoly in providing public services, unlike the private sector.
  • Hence, “porting out” or “digital migration”, as seen in the case of WhatsApp, is not an option in case of public technology platforms.
  • What is needed instead, is an examination of government technological platforms to create better awareness.
  • We saw this in action in the case of Aadhaar (the Government of India’s biometric digital identity platform) and Aarogya Setu (the Government of India’s contact tracing application during the novel coronavirus pandemic).
  • Since the announcement of the first lockdown on March 24, 2020, at least 35 mobile apps that specifically address COVID-19 were developed by 25 States and Union Territories of India.

Still a case of digital exclusion

  • As of October, 2020, more than 40% of mobile phone subscribers in India lack access to Internet services. India’s digitally excluded could be more than 50%.
  • Hence, while the creation of mobile applications makes information readily available to those with the technology to access it, it does not solve the problem for individuals and communities that remain excluded digitally.

Issues with the public technology platforms

  • The data above implies that the mobile applications developed have not benefited from the standardisation of information and a coordinated development approach.
  • Various mobile apps on COVID-19 operated by the different State governments lack consistency in terms of the features, functionalities, and frequency of information updates they offer.
  • As information was being updated manually in many of the mobile applications, the data in the mobile application was different from the actual data, leading to multiple sources of truth.
  • Most of these State mobile apps also differ significantly on the data privacy they provide, depending on the information or permissions they request from the user.

2 principles of data privacy

 

  1. necessity (is the data necessary for the mobile application to achieve its goal?) and
  2. proportionality (is the collection of data proportionate to the extent to which an individual’s right to privacy is being infringed?).

 

Steps to be taken

  • Governments should continue to set up functional helplines, auto-diallers, SMS text messages, and other channels to ensure that the digitally restricted have access to the same information as the digitally empowered — especially during crises such as the pandemic.
  • The redundant features of numerous mobile apps of States on COVID-19, duplication of efforts, non-uniformity in data-privacy, and confusion among the end user point toward a larger need for an open, interoperable, application programming interface (API)-based microservices architecture that can integrate (or host) the State digital applications with the central government’s application.

API-based microservices architecture

  • The adoption of an API-based microservices architecture and federated database structure with an appropriate governance framework could address these issues.
    • It would allow, for instance, Aarogya Setu to integrate with the myriad of State mobile apps to offer both its standard services.

Importance of decentralised information flow

  • Centralised databases can have a higher risk of data leaks and security breaches.
  • Besides, a decentralised information flow, owing to information residing in many individual systems and not in a centralised system, increases the cost while reducing the reward of effecting a successful breach.
  • Many countries in Europe have considered moving from an information flow that is centralised to a decentralised information flow for contact-tracing applications.

 

Source: TH

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