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Government works with tech community to improve TraceTogether Token

The Government began the distribution of the TraceTogether Token on 28 June 2020, with the first batch distributed to the vulnerable seniors in the community.

Nearly 10,000 tokens were given out to these seniors who are not digitally connected, and are physically frail, living alone or have poor family support.

In order to extend effective protection to as many people as possible, the Singapore Government expanded the TraceTogether Programme to include a portable device – TraceTogether Token.

The TraceTogether Token aims to complement the TraceTogether mobile app by allowing contact tracing to reach those in the community who do not have smart phones such as the elderly or children or those whose phones have the platform which does not work well with the TraceTogether app.

How the Token Works

Mr Chan Cheow Hoe, the Government Chief Digital Technology Officer and GovTech deputy chief executive, explained that the Trace Together Token is designed to do only one thing: capture proximity data based on Bluetooth signals.

Every five minutes, it scans to detect other TraceTogether users on the Token or the app. The more ‘hits’ between two TraceTogether users, the more likely the two users are in close proximity for an extended period of time. Proximity can be estimated by the strength of the Bluetooth signal.

The closer users are to one another, the stronger the signal is and vice versa. According to Mr Chan, the Token’s battery allows it to continuously scan for between six to nine months, with no charging required.

Data Used For TraceTogether Token

There are only four types of data contained in the token: the Bluetooth signal, the user’s randomised ID, the randomised ID of any other user in proximity and a timestamp of the encounter.

The IDs do not refer to a NRIC number, but randomised and anonymised IDs linked to a personal identifier like a mobile number.

Mr Chan emphasised that no data is extracted unless a user has tested positive for COVID-19. “From there, the MOH has a special software key that can unlock the device and reveal the data for use in contact tracing,” Mr Chan said.

“The reason why we wanted such a simple device was to assure everybody that it is not a tracking device,” said Mr Chan. “The device is so small that it stores only about 25 days of data.” .

Experts provide Feedback to Improve TraceTogether Token

When plans for the TraceTogether Token were first announced, there were public concerns over privacy, with some worried that it could be used as a location tracking device.

In order to address public concerns as well as to improve future editions of the token, the Government Technology Agency organised a “tear down” event on 19 Jun with four experts and open-source advocates—giving them a first look at the TraceTogether Token.

These experts included: hardware hacker Dr Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang; firmware developer Mr Sean ‘xobs’ Cross; Mr Roland Turner, Chief Privacy Officer of relationship analytics provider TrustSphere; and Mr Harish Pillay, Chief Technology Architect at open-source software provider Red Hat. They were joined by the Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and Minister-in-Charge of GovTech, Dr Janil Puthucheary.

After an investigation of the Token and its components, the four tech experts found that the Token would only perform what it was set out to do.

They found that the Token cannot do anything other than Bluetooth-related activities. It cannot do GPS, Wi-Fi or cellular.

It was also found that if the Token is to last several months on such a tiny battery, there is not enough power available to operate beyond the advertised Bluetooth functions.

Open to Feedback from the Community

The GovTech team will be holding a hackathon to further improve the Token to encourage community engagement and co-creation.

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