Singapore pulls plug on COVID tracking program
Tells residents to turn in dongles and uninstall apps, but keeps registration system alive – just in case
Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Thursday that it was finally pulling the plug on its COVID tracking program.
On February 13, the city-state's TraceTogether (TT) program, which uses the Bluetooth radios in mobile phones to track movements, and its business check-in system SafeEntry (SE) will come to a halt.
According to the ministry's announcement, the government had already begun stepping down TT and SE, and would no longer require infected persons to submit TraceTogether data.
"SE data is no longer being collected, and MOH has deleted all identifiable TT and SE data from its servers and databases," said the department.
The exception is data that was controversially used off-label in a murder investigation.
The systems will remain intact – as well as registration details including name, business registration, and mobile phone number – in case there is a need for reactivation. One example given is if a more dangerous COVID-19 variant were to spread. Apps will also remain available.
The ministry told members of the public, who haven't been required to have them since last year, that they may "uninstall their TT App, and enterprises may do the same for the SE (Business) App."
Furthermore, those with a physical TT token, which came in handy for the non-tech savvy as a device that exchanges anonymized identifiers, were asked to return the dongle for recycling.
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Singapore began developing the open source TraceTogether at the onset of the pandemic in 2020. The app constantly sought out other Bluetooth-enabled devices that ran the app and logged when they were in close proximity. The country required users to register and inform authorities if they contracted COVID-19 and used the app to draw up lists of contacts who were then isolated.
Other countries, including Australia, based their apps on the technology. While many nations seemed to flop at COVID tracking, Singapore fared somewhat better, even with similar technology. That success has been attributed to a culture willing to comply, combined with a government that modified behavior through other strict rules to keep the virus from spreading.
One example of the additional measures was tracking devices issued to travelers during a required one-week isolation after arriving.
In April, TT and SE became largely superfluous as their use was no longer mandatory except for select events. The efficacy of such systems relied on mass compliance so if some people weren't using them, they were less effective anyway.
However, job postings for positions related to the program near that time sparked speculation that the system would remain in some form in the island nation, unlike in most other countries. Singapore's Government Technology Agency (GovTech) told The Register in late March 2022 the job listings were merely for replacing existing employees.
Australia quit its app in August after it was deemed a massive failure. Japan followed in September, and China discontinued use of its tracking app in December. ®