India is repurposing its COVID-19 contact tracing app and vaccination website

India is repurposing its COVID-19 contact-tracing app and vaccination website to address other health concerns in the South Asian country.

A senior official said Sunday that the Indian government is planning to use Aarogya Setu as the country's standalone health app.

The app will offer residents the ability to book medical checkup appointments and verify the registrations with QR codes to avoid waiting in queues at hospitals, RS Sharma, the chief executive of the National Health Authority, the body that oversees implementation of the country's flagship public health scheme, said at a public event.

Aarogya Setu, launched in 2020, has amassed more than 240 million downloads, he said. The app was initially launched as a "temporary solution to a temporary problem."

Shortly after its launch, Aarogya Setu, which means "bridge to health" in Sanskrit, attracted some concerns from privacy advocates over the app's tracking of individuals. New Delhi dismissed the concerns and said at the time that the so-called flaws were implemented in the app by design. Weeks later, it open-sourced the app.

The Indian government is also repurposing its COVID-19 vaccination website, CoWIN, to serve the country's universal immunization program.

The revamped site will allow individuals to locate and obtain mandatory vaccines covered by the national immunization program, including the polio drops, and attempt to help small-scale doctors use it as their health information management system, said Sharma, who previously oversaw the nation's telecom regulator.

COVID Vaccine Intelligence Network, which is commonly called CoWIN, was introduced in January last year as the Indian government's platform to keep a unified record of COVID-19 vaccination.

Privacy supporters have disagreed with the government's latest move.

"It's critical to note that any data which is collected for that purpose should only be exclusively used for that purpose," Kazim Rizvi, founding director of public policy think tank The Dialogue, told TechCrunch.

Prasanth Sugathan, legal director of digital civil rights group, also stated that the data collected through Aarogya Setu and CoWIN should not be used for any other purposes, as such use would be against the principle of purpose limitation.

"The absence of a data protection law should not be an excuse to conduct such exercises affecting the rights of citizens. The fact that citizens agreed to provide their data for controlling the pandemic should not result in this data being used for other purposes without express and informed consent from the citizens," he said.