The National Security Council (NSC) has said that it has not endorsed the Gerak Malaysia app that’s developed by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission. Gerak Malaysia is a location-based contact tracing app that is designed based on the same contact tracing model as South Korea and China.
In a tweet response, the NSC said that they have not made any assessment or endorsement for the app. They added that they are working with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) to combine both MySejahtera and My Trace.
Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation Khairy Jamaluddin said that Gerak Malaysia is currently not approved because it uses location data tracking. He also said that they are discussing what features that can be integrated into MySejahtera and MyTrace.
Earlier this week, Khairy had provided a sneak peek of his ministry’s contact tracing app. Instead of location tracking via GPS, the app uses Bluetooth to detect nearby contacts which is somewhat similar to Singapore’s TraceTogether. He said that the app would help in contact tracing when the MCO is loosened. He also added that location is not recorded to protect user privacy.
Importance of location tracking
As highlighted previously, location tracking although it is seen as a privacy concern has been instrumental in tracking the movement of infected patients. Apart from tracking who infectees meet, they can trace the path of infection, for example, if the person has taken the train or a bus, visited a grocery store or a clinic. In South Korea, this information has helped to alert the public that an infected person has been in the area at a specific time. With this solution, South Korea was able to flatten the curve without implementing a lockdown measures.
Bluetooth-based contact tracing has its own limitations as it detects other nearby phones with the app installed. For people staying in condo or apartment buildings, there’s a potential that the platform could trigger false positives. Because of the wide range of Bluetooth, it could flag your next-door neighbours or even those above or below as a close contact even if you don’t meet with them face to face.
In suburban or rural areas with lower population density, Bluetooth-based tracing might not be as efficient as in urban areas. The probability of getting into close proximity with another person that has the same Bluetooth app installed would be even lower.
At the moment, Gerak Malaysia appears to be the only contact tracing solution from a government agency that uses location tracking. A One-time location tracking permission is required and according to the T&C, the anonymous data will be stored on a secured local server for up to 6 months after the MCO is lifted.
The app itself is pretty lightweight and it can generate a QR code which is meant to be scanned by medical frontliners or authorities enforcing the MCO. The QR code will allow authorities to determine your risk levels based on your location history and it can also replace authorisation letters that are required during the MCO period. The app is currently released as a beta and it is available on both Apple AppStore and Google PlayStore.
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