People tried checking in on the reopening of Siam Paragon. Credit: Siam Paragon FB Page

Getting to know Thai Chana “platform”

The new platform to help track Coronavirus is being questioned hard over murky procedures against personal data and privacy protection

5.07 million is the number of users of Thai Chana reported by the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) this week since the application was first launched on May 17.

And over 67, 904 shops and shopping malls and other facilities nationwide are also reported of having registered with the application.

Along with the apparent popularity of the application, the center for the whole week has been attempting to clarify issues raised by some public figures for fears that the application would violate privacy and personal data protection, reiterating that it would not.

As the country is moving forward after the Coronavirus outbreak has improved to the point that it can ease some restrictions earlier imposed to help curb the spread of the virus, the government is at the same time trying to strike a balance between disease control and the easing of the restrictions to ensure that the country would not be hit by the second wave of the outbreak.

Technology and applications have been deployed for the purpose. First is the so-called Mor Chana (Doctors win) to help assess Coronavirus risks and trace cases through a tracking system, and the latest one is Thai Chana (Thailand wins), which the center claims that it is not an application anymore due to its expanded ecosystem.

“Let’s call it a “platform”, not an application,” said Dr. Taweesin Visanuyothin, the center’s spokesperson during the press briefing over the last weekend.

Thai Chana

According to the center’s ICT supervision head Dr. Polawat Witoolkollachit, also an inspector general at the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, one of the most important restriction relaxation rules is to know the number of visitors at service venues, and that is the reason why the application was developed.

Dr. Polawat said the application is to help manage visitor density in service venues, and with their presence on record, public health officials would be able to trace back cases and their contacts from the same venues.

As explained by the center, Thai Chana is a platform to support shops and other service providers as well as their customers to check whether service venues and facilities become crowded. To activate the system, these shops and service providers will be required to register with the system and then they will obtain QR codes.

Customers, meanwhile, will only scan QR codes when entering Thai Chana registered compounds, check in, and check out. Through the platform’s operation, they can learn about the venue density from the screen on their mobile phones. They can also report about the venue’s social distancing measures, and in turn help keep the venue’s measures in check to meet the standard required.

With their presence recorded, those infected with the virus and their contacts would be easily identified and traced, accordingly.

Dr. Polawat tried to allay fears of privacy violation, saying the Department of Disease Control has been assigned by the center to be in charge of data control. Krung Thai Bank, meanwhile, is tasked as a data processor under the DDC’s data supervision. So, people should not be worried that their data will be used beyond the disease control purpose or forwarded to other agencies.

Dr.Polawat cited the reason to keep the collected data for 60 days, saying it is in line with the incubation periods (14 days each) of the third and fourth generations of infection so that public health officials could have a database big enough to trace back up to three or four weeks at least.

“Thai Chana is a closed system, to which other people cannot access. It’s developed to facilitate users while protecting privacy,” said Dr.Polawat.

The data, as explained by the Thai Chana website, will be encrypted and only authorised agencies can access to it.

What has never been told since the introduction of the platform is what kinds of data of users that the platform collects.

Credit: Siam Paragon FB Page

Questions raised

Several observers including ICT and economist scholar Sarinee Achavanuntakul questioned about the platform’s transparency since the beginning as she viewed that it’s illogical and does not quite comply with the privacy protection principle under the new personal data protection law (Its enforcement was poseponed this week for one year).

She has posted on her Facebook page, asking whether the app/platform is fit for the purpose, complies with the privacy by design principle_a design with privacy at its heart, and whether it is transparent and accountable enough.

“Any applications or platforms that cannot answer these three questions clearly, people should bear in mind that they may have purposes other than what declared,” the scholar cautioned.

Dr. Taweesin, meanwhile, reiterated on Thursday that the platform has been subject to a thorough study. It would not affect privacy nor be used for political purposes.

“The Public Health Ministry will take care of the data for disease control purpose only. It will stay in the system for 60 days and will be erased if no infection is reported. It will not be used for purposes other than what mentioned, and personal data other than that for tracing will not be collected along,” stressed Dr. Taweesin.