Over the past few years, I’ve heard hundreds, perhaps even thousands of anti-vax conspiracy theories.
There’s the ever-popular “COVID is just a hoax!”, the classic “The vaccines are just a money-making scam!”, the token homophobic “The jab will make you gay!” and countless other assorted conspiracies that I don’t have the time nor the energy to get into.
But the one that always makes me laugh is “They’ll use the vaccines to insert tracking microchips into our bodies!”
Honestly, it’s probably one of the dumbest conspiracy theories around (not that that’s a particularly high bar to clear). After all, even if there was some evil shadow conspiracy government group or whatever, why on earth would they waste time and money on totally-not-vaccine microchips when there’s a much cheaper and easier way to do it?
If a secret shadow group wanted to track Malaysians, they wouldn’t have to mess about with satellites or microchips or whatever. All they’d have to do is see our MySejahtera app history and they can already see everywhere we’ve been to.
New Year, New Update
At the end of 2021, the MySejahtera app received a rather controversial new update called MySejahtera Trace (MySJ Trace).
Designed to make it easier to track down anyone you’ve come into close contact with, this new feature is being pushed as the next step to help us curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The MySJ Trace function was developed to fulfil the demands of the Find, Trace, Test, Isolate and Support (FTTIS) programme,” said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a joint statement with the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (MOSTI).
In the past, MySejahtera users needed to manually check in, check out and then check back in whenever they went to a new place. The problem was that if you ever forgot to check out (which many people did), the program would think that you’re still in that place.
As a result, some users would receive false COVID-19 close contact notices — even if they were nowhere near the area where the COVID-19 patient had visited!
So How Does MySJ Trace Work?
Simply put, MySJ Trace uses Bluetooth technology to keep track of anyone and everyone that you come into close contact with.
If a MySJ Trace user is discovered to be COVID-19 positive, they have the option of uploading all their interactions over the past 14 days. This allows health officials to identify and warn everyone else who might have gotten infected during that time.
If you choose not to do so, then the close contact detection will be done manually instead.
Sounds pretty cool, right? I admit, I was kinda impressed with the technology at first. But then I asked myself ‘Do I really want the government to be able to track me at all times?’
I Wasn’t The Only Malaysian Who Felt Concerned About This New Feature
In a recent statement to Free Malaysia Today, Privacy Lawyer Foong Cheng Leong said that the government needed to make sure that any data collected would only be used for contact tracing related purposes.
Aside from that, he warned that this new tracing system might not be as effective as expected simply because not everyone has a smart phone capable of installing the MySejahtera app in the first place.
“Manual registration must remain to cater to a certain segment of the people,” he said.
Though they work in different fields, Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib shares Foong’s apprehension about the app’s data security. Pointing out that the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) excluded federal or state government entities, he said that the government needed to clarify exactly what law is being used to protect the data gathered from MySejahtera.
“This is a legitimate concern as there have been several major data breaches over the past year, including patient data,” he said.
Another concerned expert is the Chief Executive Officer of LGMS, Fong Choong Fook, whose work involves testing app security for major local banks and e-commerce brands.
“What has the government done in terms of protecting our personal information?” he asked. “So far, the PDPA that we have doesn’t govern the government itself.”
In other words, if there are any data leaks due to government negligence, the ones responsible might be allowed to get away with it.
But Why Are We So Worried About MySejahtera Leaking Our Personal Information?
It’s only natural to be concerned about our privacy. After all, who wants their personal information advertised out in the open like that?
However, the truth is that many of us are (unknowingly) already giving away our private information for free every day.
In an interview with the Malay Mail, Fong explained that when it came to privacy, social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were probably a bigger risk compared to MySJ Trace.
“These are three times more intrusive if compared to the MySejahtera app,” he said.
MySejahtera requires 16 permissions for features such as locations and to make calls as part of contact tracing. Social media apps such as Facebook, on the other hand, required 56 permissions for access rights on a mobile phone.
These allow social media apps to have more access to your phone than most users might expect. According to Fong, social media apps can do things like:
- Access your phones contact list
- Read messages
- Send messages through SMS
- Control your phone’s setting
- Use the microphone
- Control your phone’s GPS
In other words, if you really are terrified of having your personal data stolen, you should first start by deleting all the social media apps from your phone.
Why Is Contact Tracing So Important?
With all that said and done, if you really wanted to, there’s nothing stopping you from going full caveman. You can delete all your social media, throw away your phone and go through life with as little technology as possible.
It’d be difficult, of course. Even if you’re the kind of person who can survive without internet access in the first place, you’d still have to manually write down your info instead of simply scanning a QR code. But this would just be a personal issue, right? As long as you’re not endangering the public, who cares?
The problem is that the COVID-19 virus doesn’t care either.
Despite all his concerns with the MySJ Trace, Fong still believes that it’s important to use the app simply because it’s the most effective way for the authorities to identify and contact a person who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
In fact, MySejahtera is so efficient that it’s been ranked above many other COVID-19 apps such as the UK’s NHS App, India’s Aarogya Setu and France’s TousAntiCovid!
If you just stick to writing down your details manually, it could take days for the authorities to find you — days when you could be walking around and unintentionally spreading the virus to everyone nearby.
“While this is the least efficient way for authority to trace you, you are also cutting yourself out from being contacted by the authority in case of emergency,” said Fong.
Welcome to Year Three of the New Normal
Like it or not, the fact is that contact tracing is going to be a part of our daily lives for the foreseeable future.
As concerning as the implications are, I know for a fact that I’d rather deal with having MySJ Trace keeping tabs on me than go through another big lockdown.
Although it’s easy to think that the worst has passed, it is critical for us ordinary Malaysians to follow the SOPs in our everyday lives. If we don’t take this seriously, we’re just going to end up with more and more COVID-19 clusters popping up every week.
If you’re interested in learning more about the new COVID-19 variants that are arriving in Malaysia, be sure to check out: