With contact tracing now made mandatory on smartphones for amost all users, as the government looks to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, a privately built app now aims to introduce contact tracing for feature phone users in the country as well. Aiisma, a company that rewards users for voluntarily being part of data collection and analysis programmes, has claimed to have developed a solution for enabling contact tracing for feature phone users as well. The system works with a combination of USSD code, network locators and a smartphone app.
According to a media statement, Aiisma's solution involves an anonymous data sharing option on feature phones, which can mark a Covid-19 patient without divulging any personal information about the user. This data will then be shared with Aiisma's own app, which has now introduced health tracking alongside its data collection options. With this, the app will automatically alert a user if the person has happened to come across an area of heavy Covid-19 activity, or been in touch with a person that has beemed a positive signal for Covid-19.
A statement shared by Aiisma with News18 says, "This can be the primary way of tracking those in rural areas where the penetration of smartphones is not that high. The infrastructure in the back-end of the app and mobile remains the same. Instead of having an app installed in their smartphone, they are selecting one option propagated to them by their service providers. Even basic handsets share the location information via cell towers with the telecom service provider. But this app would use the USSD feature when the person gives consent for this information to be shared with the Aiisma ecosystem which ensures anonymity and privacy."
The technology, if adopted officially or more extensively, can be a breakthrough in terms of using contact tracing to reach out to the farthest corners of India. The Indian mobile phone market still has a sizeable section of feature phone users, and given the threat that Covid-19 presents in terms of the community stage transfer, such solutions can be crucial in preventing the pandemic from breaking out on a larger scale.