You can tell a lot about someone based on their phone.
There are a actually lot of stereotypes about this. For example, Nokia users are seen as more old fashioned and family-focused, while iPhone users keep chasing after the latest shiny. Android users are more down-to-earth, while flip phone users spend a lot of time wondering why their grandkids never call anymore.
But there is one thing that all of these phones have in common: if they’re Malaysian, they’ve probably downloaded the MySejahtera app.
Unlike most of the apps in your phone today, MySejahtera was developed by our government rather than a private company. It was first launched in April 2020 by former Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Designed to assist with contact tracing efforts, MySejahtera is used to quickly identify anyone who may have come into close contact with a COVID-19 victim. Over time, it has been expanded with more features to enable users to monitor their health condition, help COVID- 19 positive individuals get medical attention and assist with vaccination registrations.
But even aside from all that, the main reason most of us use the MySejahtera app is to check in by scanning the QR code whenever we visit a new place.
If It’s So Useful, Why Are We Selling It?
In March 2022, Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim raised concerns about the government’s decision to sell MySejahtera to a private firm which he claims is owned by political cronies.
The details of this sale was disclosed during a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing on March 24 2022, where it was revealed that the MySejahtera application would be taken over by a new entity from KPISoft Malaysia Sdn Bhd, the local company that helped develop it.
“The directors… include individuals with political and business connections to parties in the ruling coalition government, including Tan Sri Shahril Shamsuddin, who was the chief executive officer of Sapura Energy until March 2021, and Tan Sri Megat Najmuddin who was an UMNO division chief and later became a senior member of Bersatu,” he said.
Anwar also questioned the fact that the app was being sold through direct negotiation rather than a transparent public tender.
“Under an open tender, these facts would be scrutinised by the government and the public,” he said. “In the case of a direct negotiation, this deal appears to resemble a pattern of rewarding companies and individuals that have political and business connections to the ruling government.”
“Does the government frequently reward individuals or companies that conduct Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) for the benefit of the Malaysian people with lucrative contracts?”
But Why is This Such A Big Deal?
Aside from health information, the MySejahtera database is also expected to gather data on intimate details such as personal preferences, consumption patterns and social life.
“The sale of MySejahtera to a private company raises substantial concerns about data privacy and the potential abuse of private health related data about millions of Malaysians,” said Anwar.
“What are [the company’s] obligations to ensure that the data which Malaysians shared via MySejahtera on the basis of a public mandate will not be used for marketing, product development, surveillance, or discriminatory purposes?”
The idea of letting the government track and record your every step already feels pretty uncomfortable. But what if it’s with a private company — one that might be willing to sell off all this personal information to the highest bidder?
It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’m not a criminal, so I don’t care if the police can see my data”, but how many of you would be willing to give up your privacy so that some company could spam you with annoying adverts based on your everyday activities?
And that’s not even mentioning what could happen if this kind of data fell into the hands of a malicious party. Imagine what a thief could do if he knew exactly what time you leave and come back to your home every day!
#StopUsingMySejahtera Goes Viral
Needless to say, many Malaysians are rather unhappy with this prospect.
Over the past few days, calls to boycott the MySejahtera application have begun to rise on social media sites under hashtags like #StopUsingMySejahtera. Many netizens are questioning the need to continue using MySejahtera if it means handing over their private details to some inscrutable entity.
“Is MySejahtera turning into MySpy?” asked Twitter user jayjaydenis. “If so, we should stop using the app to check-in until @KKMPutrajaya (Health Ministry) takes full ownership instead of being handed to private individuals.”
“After wasting a lot of taxpayers’ money to develop (the app), why should they sell (the app) to a private company?” asked user @_hana_kilokilo.
“Your private information should be in neither the government’s nor the private sector’s purview without your consent. The MySejahtera app is a travesty of basic human rights. #StopUsingMySejahtera,” tweeted user @yowchuan.
“We’re not actually selling MySejahtera”
On 27 March 2022, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin made an official statement saying that the MySejahtera application has never been sold to any private companies and that all private data would remain safe.
“MySejahtera is fully owned by the government with the Ministry of Health (MoH) as the main owner, including all the data received by MySejahtera. Data secrecy is guaranteed and the MoH will always ensure this aspect is not compromised,” Khairy said.
He emphasised that the use and management of MySejahtera data had to comply with the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342), the Medical Act 1971 and international standards.
“Accordingly, MySejahtera data cannot be shared by the MoH with any government or private agency. In addition, data transactions from the MySejahtera application are uploaded to the cloud server network every day and can only be accessed for the use of the MySejahtera application.
“MoH hopes that the public will continue to use the MySejahtera application without hesitation. The confidentiality of public data is guaranteed and the MoH will always ensure that this aspect is not compromised,” he added.
But Do We Really Need MySejahtera Anymore?
Despite Khairy’s reassurances, many Malaysians are still unhappy. Some such as Gerakan Vice-President Datuk Baljit Singh have gone to far as to ask if it’s time for Malaysians to do away with MySejahtera altogether.
“Are we waiting for a breach in data privacy to occur before everyone scrambles with lame statements on this matter?” he asked.
Apart from the privacy issue, Baljit added that many Malaysians were already displeased with the app due to the many glitches which have occurred over the past few months.
“In the near future, Malaysians will not be fooled again and are more likely to not declare their health status and other vital data,” he warned.
We’re Not The First Country to Have Problems With Contact Tracing Apps
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, several countries around the world have come up with their own contact tracing apps. But while they may have originally been created with good intentions, these apps have not always respected their user’s privacy.
For example, in January 2021 Singaporean authorities revealed that the data from their TraceTogether programme could be accessed by the police “for the purpose of criminal investigation” — breaking their previous promises that it would only be used for contact tracing.
To make matters worse, on the same day of the announcement TraceTogether’s privacy statement was updated with new lines such as:
“Any Bluetooth data shared with MOH can only be used for the purpose of contact tracing…. The only exception is when the data is needed for investigation or criminal proceedings.”
As you might expect, these revelations have soured many Singaporean citizens on contact tracing. While some still use the app for the sake of beating the pandemic, a lot of users have since deleted the TraceTogether app altogether.
Could It Happen In Malaysia Too?
Love it or hate it, you have to admit that MySejahtera’s contact tracing has helped to save hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives since this pandemic started. By giving up a little privacy, we have given the health experts a chance to stop many COVID-19 outbreaks before they could go out of control.
The question is, where does it end?
If our private data starts being sold to companies, how many Malaysians would immediately decide to delete the app regardless of how many others might get sick as a result? And the worst part is, I wouldn’t even blame them.
If our data is being sold, should we keep using MySejahtera anyway for the sake of the public good? Do we just go back to manually signing in with a physical logbook whenever we go out? Or are we forced to just stay at home all day, every day until this pandemic is officially over?
In the end, it’s important to remember that even if you don’t want to turn on MySejahtera, you still have to follow SOPs. After all, the virus doesn’t care if you have the app or not!
If you’d like to learn more about MySejahtera’s issues, be sure to check out: