Blockchain Experts Weigh in on Russia’s Controversial Coronavirus Tracking App

Experts suggest that blockchain technology could have been a better solution for handling coronavirus-related data in Russia.

Moscow’s COVID-19 App is pulled from Google Play

On March 25, an app called “Social monitoring” appeared in Google Play store. According to the app’s description, it was designed for social monitoring as well as for providing access to emergency services.

Users soon noticed that the app required many sensitive permissions, including geolocation, bluetooth pairing, biometric data, and calls. Notably, the data was also being openly transmitted without encryption. The backlash against the app led to a 1-star rating on Google Play by the morning of April 1. Later that day, the app disappeared from the store altogether.

Blockchain a better alternative

Russia is not the only country challenged by this crisis. Governments around the world are faced with difficult choices in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. There is a need to track people infected with the virus, but this is difficult to accomplish without compromising individual privacy and safety. In an effort to solve this dilemma, Cointelegraph investigated whether experts believe that blockchain technology could provide a workable solution.

Dr. Javier Estrella, GeoDB CTO, believes that the world is just coming to realize the value of distributed trust:

“The vast majority of people are just beginning to understand distributed ledger technologies and that the main advantages are not in the technical solutions, but in the approaches that lead to them. In essence, there is one feature that stands out in systems built using these technologies, distributed trust, and this is something totally new.”

Furthermore, he observed that the citizens have no guarantee that collected data will not be abused or mishandled:

“Who can guarantee citizens that this data will only be used to deal with the current health crisis and that the data made public by countries has not been altered?”

Igor Chugunov, founder and CEO of CREDITS (CS) blockchain platform, believes:

“A blockchain-based register of COVID-19 patients would present a maximally objective data which neither the patient nor the provider would be able to falsify. At the same time, cryptographically-secured decentralized data provides maximum privacy protection.”

Moscow’s government giving out smartphones

Moscow’s government has not given up on the idea of using technology to keep an eye on infected inhabitants. Aleksey Shapashnikov, speaker of the Moscow parliament, said that the city is developing a database to store photos and personal information about people infected with the virus.

On April 3, Moscow’s government began distributing smartphones to Muscovites with coronavirus whose symptoms are not severe enough for hospitalization. The only app that is installed on the phone is a tracking app which uses geolocation to make sure users are not leaving their homes. Those who violate the quarantine are instead hospitalized. Government servers are saving the data, which will delete the information once the pandemic is over.

Remaining hurdles to consider

It may seem that blockchain and healthcare data are a match made in heaven. However, there are certain hurdles to adoptability, like legal compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the U.S., and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe. Though world governments are often resistant to innovation and decentralization, time will tell if the current crisis can alter these institutional predilections.