[ UPDATE 17/4/2020 22:00 ] National Security Council has not endorsed the Gerak Malaysia contact tracing app. More details here.
In the battle to contain the spread of COVID-19, contact tracing is an important tool which helps health authorities such as the Ministry of Health to identify every person that an infectee may have made contact with. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission is testing a beta app called Gerak Malaysia that can do just that and it uses location tracking.
Beta app to assist MOH
The beta app is an initiative by the MCMC with the support from the Malaysian telcos. From what we are told, Gerak Malaysia is developed based on the same contact tracing models that are being implemented in South Korea and in China.
To sign up, all it requires is a couple of basic details. It needs your mobile number with TAC verification, full name, IC number, address and email. Once that’s done, you’ll just need to keep the app running.
Since it tracks your location, you would need to grant the app permission to access your phone’s GPS. The only function after the registration process is a QR code generator. This would be helpful for both medical frontliners as well as authorities enforcing the MCO.
QR code applications
At hospitals, the QR code can be used to determine your risk level and it will allow frontliners to assign you to the right queue. For example, if you’ve been to an area that was visited by a confirmed COVID-19 case, you will be flagged as a high-risk.
The QR code can also assist the police and armed forces at the roadblocks as they can determine whether you’re travelling within the permitted radius. This feature can potentially replace the approval letters that are required to be presented to the police. As a result, this feature can help speed up the checks and reduce congestion.
Of course, contact tracing is only effective if the majority of Malaysians use it. It is possible that the Nasional Security Council could make this app mandatory for all Malaysians that want to travel out from their homes to buy essentials.
Privacy is also a key focus for the app. It only collects and maintains an anonymous record of places where you’ve been. The information is stored at a secured local server that belongs to the MCMC.
In the T&C, it is mentioned that the information collected is only intended to be used during and up to a period of 6 months after the MCO is lifted. Commercial usage is also strictly prohibited. In fact, after the crisis is over, the system will be deactivated and all users would be told to delete the app.
According to our sources, the app was developed for three weeks and it was originally intended for population movement tracking. Right before the MCO was imposed, hundreds of thousands of people have left the Klang Valley which was a huge concern. This can be seen in a recent report by Waze where there’s a spike in movement on 17th March.
Overall, Gerak Malaysia appears to be an app that Malaysia needs right now and this is how contact tracing should be done. It uses anonymous location data with multi-agency endorsement and it is also supported by telcos.