India’s contact-tracing app unleashes KaiOS on feature phones

55 million users of $10 Bluetooth-enabled phones come into embrace of closed-source app

India has delivered on its promise to adapt its Aarogya Setu contact-tracing app for feature phones.

A Sunday Tweet confirmed the app’s existence and that it runs on phones from Jio, the nation’s largest mobile carrier.

Jio currently offers two phones, a $10 candy bar model and vintage-Blackberry-like $40 model 2. Both run KaiOS, an effort that derives from the Firefox OS that the browser-maker abandoned back in 2015 . They also offer Bluetooth, the key technology for contact-tracing apps.

While porting the app to KaiOS will mean the contact-tracing app can reach another 55 million devices, India has 550 million feature phone users. Statcounter suggests Android enjoys over 90 percent market share, meaning Bluetooth-driven contact-tracing apps’ problems with iOS will be less of an issue in India than elsewhere.

While the advent of Arrogya Setu on Jio phones is welcome, India has not open-sourced the app. That’s not a massive issue given KaiOS has minuscule global market share, but stands in contrast to other nations contact-tracing efforts.

Security researchers claim the app has security flaws while India’s Software Freedom Law Centre has published criticism of the app on grounds that not being open-sourced is unhelpful, that its efficacy is untested, that using both GPS and Bluetooth represents unwarranted intrusion into users’ movements, and that making use mandatory is unreasonable. ®


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