‘Created by Unscrupulous Elements’: MoHFW on ‘Fake’ Co-Win Apps

Co-WIN platform is currently under pre-production and is not available for download on any app store.

Updated
Tech News
4 min read
The application is still not released, so you cannot download it on Google Play Store or Apple Store.
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Days after Ministry of Health introduced the Co-WIN app for vaccine distribution, a few apps with similar names have surfaced on app stores and people have started downloading them in an attempt to register themselves for the vaccine, The Times of India reported.

On Wednesday, 6 January, the MoHFW issued a statement in this regard, asking people not to download these as they were “created by unscrupulous elements to sound similar to upcoming official platform” and added that once the platform is launched, it will be publicised.

Co-WIN, short for COVID Vaccine Intelligence Network, is the new mobile platform which will be used for the rollout for COVID-19 vaccines in India. The app is supposed to be a one-stop digital platform to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. The Ministry of Health has specified that the Co-WIN platform is currently under pre-production, and is not available for download on any app store.

One of the applications available on Google Play Store is named Cowin - A Smarter Way. The one-line description of the application reads, “Cowin is designed to help Indian citizens”.

Over 10,000 people have downloaded the application. It’s worth to note that the application was released on 27 August 2020, much before the Centre announced the Co-WIN app. The app has not been updated since its release.

  • Screenshot of the Cowin app on Google Play store.
  • Screenshot of the Cowin app on Google Play store.
  • Screenshot of the Cowin app on Google Play store.

This application provides the user with data that is already available in the public domain like the number of cases, deaths and recoveries from COVID-19. It also talks about the different symptoms, laboratories for testing and grocery stores.

The reviews on the app make it evident that people confused it with Co-WIN. One person wrote, “I live in Gujarat, but the app totally gave details about Mumbai. Secondly, no option to register for the vaccine.”
Reviews on the Cowin app in Google Play Store. 
Reviews on the Cowin app in Google Play Store. 
(Photo: Screenshot/Cowin)

Co-WIN OR Cowin? SIMILAR NAMES CREATE CONFUSION

While these apps don’t claim to be the official app for the vaccination drive, their names have created confusion.

Search results for Co-WIN app on Google Play Store.
Search results for Co-WIN app on Google Play Store.
(Photo: Screenshot/Google Play Store)
While “Cowin - A Smarter Way” does not ask for personal information, two other applications called “Cowin” ask for the user’s location, microphone, telephone, storage and Bluetooth settings. Both these applications are made by Chinese companies and are used to control music playback via Bluetooth.
Permissions required for other Cowin apps on Google Play Store.
Permissions required for other Cowin apps on Google Play Store.
(Photo: Screenshot/Google Play Store)

Additionally, the MoH has specified that one photo identity will be required to register on the Co-WIN app. Giving away personal information mentioned on a photo identity might be risky when the app is not a trusted one.

FAKE CORONAVIRUS APPS

Several mobile applications began flooding the app stores of both Google and Apple ever since the beginning of the pandemic. While some provided important information about dealing with COVID-19, there were some that were created with malicious intentions and tried to steal user data or spread misinformation.

The Indian government’s coronavirus contact tracing mobile application, Aarogya Setu, also faced a similar situation when cybersecurity researchers found fake versions of it. The fake app had a similar icon and tried to install spyware on to the phone every time it was launched.

Apple and Google had decided to crack down on such apps. This lead to Apple rejecting all coronavirus-related mobile software, which is not from recognised health organisations or the government. Similarly, Google also stopped showing apps not registered by government organisation when the user searched for terms like “COVID 19” or “Coronavirus”.

HOW TO SPOT RED FLAGS?

While the app stores on both Google and Apple are trying to curb the tide of fake apps, there are some red flags that the user can look for when downloading an app.

  • Don't download applications from a third-party website or try to sideload apps on your devices from uncertain sources.
  • Even while downloading from the official play store, check who the developer is. For apps like Co-WIN and Aarogya Setu, the developer should be the Government of India.
  • Make sure to read reviews and ratings of any app you’re looking at before downloading. For example, a popular app with only seven five-star reviews might not be trustworthy.
  • Do check out the permissions that the app asks for when you install it, like user location, media storage, call records, etc.
  • Do not give away the bank account details if you are sure about the application.

WHAT IS CO-WIN APP?

As per the MoH, registration on Co-WIN app is mandatory for vaccination for COVID-19. Only after the registration will the information on the session site to visit and the time be shared with the beneficiary. Co-WIN has data of 75 lakh health officials who will be first in line to get vaccinated.

Once launched, it will include two parts – one, that will be used by the beneficiary and the other, that will be a back-end module, which will be used by vaccinators.

The app will be available for free download across all platforms and will require photo identification for registration. Following successful online registration, the beneficiary will receive an SMS on their registered mobile number on the due date, place and time of vaccination.

The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) had on 3 January approved Oxford-AstraZeneca's Covishield and indigenously developed Covaxin of Bharat Biotech for restricted emergency use in the country.

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