TraceFast: StaySafe.ph’s Little Big Brother

Published September 7, 2020, 9:52 AM

by Len Amadora

Written by Robert “Bob” Reyes

According to health experts, the containment of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relies on the efficacy of contact tracing. There must be a highly effective and robust strategy in identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent further transmission.

In April 2020, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) adopts StaySafe.ph as the official social distancing, health condition reporting, and contact tracing system for the country through IATF Resolution No. 27. The reaction of various stakeholders with IATF’s endorsement of this contact tracing system was mixed. Computer and Information Technology (IT) security experts, including ex-DICT OIC Eliseo Rio, Jr., even called StaySafe.ph as “borderline spyware” after raising concerns on how the app handles the data privacy of its users.

In a virtual press conference last 15 June 2020, Almirol described StaySafe.ph as more than just a contact tracing app; it is a pandemic mitigation system. He also said that the StaySafe.ph system (source code and data collected) will be donated to the Philippine government through the Department of Health (DOH). When asked about DICT’s participation in implementing the system, Almirol said that they (DICT) do not have the skillset yet to maintain the StaySafe.ph platform. The DICT instead asked Multisys to forward a proposal for “managed services” related to the project.

I am wondering whatever happened to the “donation” of the system to the government. At present, the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 serves as the data controller of StaySafe.ph as a project, while Multisys acts as the data processor.

Just a few days ago, a couple of my iPhone user friends were surprised when they noticed that an app using the Google-Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) API has been activated on their smartphones after updating their devices’ operating system (OS). The app is called TraceFast.

Developed by Apple and Google, GAEN is a framework and specification used to facilitate digital contact tracing during this pandemic. The use of this tool is limited to just one (01) app per country.

TraceFast is developed by Multisys Technologies Corporation, the same company that made StaySafe.ph.

I reached out to Multisys to clarify if TraceFast is just a rebranding of their original contact tracing system. According to a company representative, TraceFast is a different app from StaySafe.ph.

StaySafe.ph will remain available for LGU use with features such as citizens’ health condition reporting, QR code scanning, and digital logbook features.

Last Thursday, 03 September 2020, StaySafe.ph was launched with partners from the private sector, including mall operators. No less than Multisys Technologies Corporation CEO David Almirol, Jr. was present at the event.

“Wala pong surveillance ang StaySafe. Ang surveillance lang po ay yung nagkakasakit lang. Liwanagin ko po, mali po yung impression na kapag nag-download ka ng StaySafe ay parang nasu-surveillance — hindi. There’s no surveillance on the individual who is going to download StaySafe. Only the confirmed cases, yun lang po. Na-review na po yan ng technical experts, nag workshop sa DICT. Napakaganda po ng proseso ng StaySafe. Our intention is to save lives and saving lives is no longer (the responsibility) of a group or a government. It’s already our job, all of us,” according to Almirol.

Multisys claims that TraceFast is still in the testing stage. At present, the app is only available for iPhone units running iOS 13.5 and later. Further scrutiny of the app revealed a blank page for its Terms (and Condition for use) – something similar to what StaySafe.ph’s website had when it was initially released.

Personally, I don’t see a need for a separate contact tracing app for use by LGUs and private entities. I am still waiting for the Android version of TraceFast to land on my Android devices (no ETA yet from the app developers).

Will you be using TraceFast when it becomes available on your mobile device? Are you using StaySafe.ph now?

 
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