The Executive Yuan yesterday launched a free short message service (SMS) that would boost the government’s contact-tracing efforts without disclosing personal data to third parties.
The government began developing the service after the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) raised the COVID-19 alert to level 2 nationwide following a surge of locally transmitted cases. The alert level was yesterday raised to level 3 nationwide.
Businesses and restaurants must record customers’ names and phone numbers, as well as the number of accompanying visitors for contact-tracing purposes.
Photo: Peter Lo, Taipei Times
However, many businesses still require customers to write their names and phone numbers on a piece of paper, which could slow access to venues during peak hours and personal data could inadvertently be leaked to third parties.
Some customers have also voiced hygiene concerns about using pens provided by businesses.
While some large retail store chains have developed their own online registration systems, they still have to provide pens and paper for less tech-savvy customers.
Photo: Lee Hsin-fang, Taipei Times
Minister Without Portfolio Audrey Tang (唐鳳), who led the team that created the new service, said that it was developed by activating the text-messaging function for the 1922 hotline, which was established by the Centers for Disease Control for people to ask questions about COVID-19 or other communicable diseases.
From yesterday, government agencies, private business owners, street vendors and public transport operators can apply to have their own QR codes, Tang said, adding they can apply more than one code if they have multiple branches.
Businesses and restaurants must first obtain a QR code for their venues by registering on the e-Mask pre-order system (emask.taiwan.gov.tw/real), Tang said.
When entering a store or a restaurant, customers simply need to scan the code using a QR code reader on their smartphone, and a link would pop up, she said.
After clicking on the link, a text message to the 1922 hotline would appear, which should contain the venue’s code number, Tang said.
Customers then send the text to the hotline, she said, adding that the entire procedure takes about five seconds.
People would not have to pay for the text message, Tang said.
“The messages are sent through telecoms, which would only record when they receive text messages from their service subscribers and what the messages entail,” Tang said.
Based on their agreements with the CECC, telecoms must delete such records from their systems after 28 days, she said.
People should not be concerned about data protection issues or receiving unwanted advertisements, Tang said.
If people’s mobile phones do not have a QR code reader, they can instead manually type the venue’s identification code in an SMS and send it to 1922, she said.
“If people forget to bring their mobile phones with them, they can still write down their contact information,” she said, adding that the new service would not replace existing ones.
Additional reporting by staff writer, with CNA
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