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Indonesia’s Response to COVID-19 [Part-2]: Tracing App, Privacy Concerns and Internet Access

It was sad news for many Indonesians in Jakarta to know after the 30-year, a McDonald store located in Sarinah Building in Central Jakarta, one of their most legendary hangout places, shutted down forever. The magnitude of McDonald’s closure brought them as a national trending topic in Twitter. Public empathized by filling up the street of where the legendary McDonald located, more than dozens who waved goodbye in the middle of the night to the store. 

People gather at McDonald’s during Covid19 Pandemic.

The store closure like the above seems to be an ordinary story. Unfortunately, it happened during the order from Indonesian government to maintain physical distance due to Covid-19 pandemic. McDonald’s story was only one of many. There are more examples where public crowded shopping centres such as malls and markets. 

This is worrying. Many countries are in competition to procure the best flattening policies, while Indonesia still struggles. Policies issued, specifically on ICT to support the de-escalations, seem to be inefficient due to various factors from enforcement to community’s commitment which will be discussed in this writing.

Seeking reliable, clear, practicable, and concise information.

It was around 23 April 2020 at 8am California time when the news broke in. The Indonesian government decided to ban all means of transportation, including commercial airplanes from abroad. The ban meant that Indonesians abroad can’t go home. Seeking clarifications from embassies and consulates led to no fruitful result. 

The Indonesian information center was not offering too much help at the time. There was no clear guidance on how Indonesian abroad should respond to the newly enacted policies. The Indonesian embassy consoled students and communicated their concern to the government back home after gathering students in a whatsapp group. It was only a few weeks after, the Ministry of Health issued regulations on the current treatment, which unfortunately surprised many students who came back without proper health documentation with involuntary quarantine at the government-provided facility.

The story was only one of few cases that happened with regard to finding information pertaining to the government’s policy on covid-19. The deployment of an information center, including its hotline, is indeed a right move. However, it will not offer much help if the information provided is unclear. The authorities supplying regulations and guidance need to ensure that every information published is sensible. Otherwise the public will be left in another episode of confusion like the one that happened on the decision on national leave, which was abruptly changed a few days after its issuance.

What’s up tracing app?

On the other fold of the story, the government released a contact-tracing apps “pedulilindungi”on March 2020. After a minor episode of naming the app with similar name of Singaporean’s app, the app is expected to minimize an individual’s exposure to a zone where covid-19 cases occurred. Using bluetooth technology, the user will be notified if they approach an area classified as a red zone where covid-19 cases exist.

The release of this app is not without hurdles. A substantive amount of hoaxes welcomed the deployment of these apps. Granted, privacy becomes most of the concern though the government promised to protect user’s privacy. However, the hoax claimed the apps are insecure allowing exfiltration of financial data of its users, which is totally baseless. It unfortunately discouraged the public to download, although for civil servants they have been encouraged to use the app in a message to help the country.

Alas, there has been no clear information on the success rate of apps’ contribution to flatten the curve. With the fluctuation of positive suspects, the number of covid-19 reported each day, let alone with many incidents of massive public gathering in several spots, to ask the contribution of the app seems to be a fair question. Especially with the potential privacy intrusion that may occur to users as the consequences of using the app.

The Rising Virus Besides Covid19: Hoax!

As of Monday (27/4/20) the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (Kominfo) announced there were almost 600 hoaxes related to the Covid-19 pandemic. It varied from the edited photo of Gibran’s statement (the son of President Jokowi) to false information about social assistance complaints number. 

Indonesian government frequently ensnare the hoax makers and spreaders through Law No. 11 of 2008 on Electronic Information and Transaction which lastly amended by Law No. 19 of 2016. However, the effort to catch the culprit and demand public clarification on the hoax to be made is inadequate. This is since until the suspect is arrested the misinformation is potentially viral resulting with material and immaterial damages, due the nature of information that is easily distributed.

This unfortunate incident was experienced by the family of Svaradiva (ID Institute), when her aunt passed away due to Covid. While they mourn, a hoax calling out her late aunt’s family including children and husbands were infected and quarantined was spreaded. The hoax also told the public that the area of her aunt’s home is in the red zone. Eventually, prejudice from the neighbors, and the sector mentioned in the hoax was shunned by residents. However the hoax had  already affected so many though the information was false.

Another example is a chain message consisting of a fake complaints hotline number for Social Assistance (Bansos) of the Ministry of Social Affairs. The hoax directed the social assistance (bansos) applicants to contact the fake complaint number and provide their own personal data such as full name, identity number (NIK), and full address for the purpose of applying social assistance funds. Not only spreading false news, the perpetrators of the hoax also collected personal data (data harvesting), targeting Indonesians’ inadequate knowledge on the importance of protecting and not sharing personal data.

The story above reflects how ICT, specifically the internet can facilitate misinformation and hoax campaigns.  Hoax can actually be overcome if the community gets an adequate education related to checking false information. Through verifying whether the information obtained is correct or not via the internet, anti-hoax campaign may be facilitated. However, do we even have equal access to the internet?

Inequality internet access: How do we survive this Work/School from home situation?

Since the Indonesian government imposed the Large-scaled social distancing (PSBB) in early March 2020, office buildings and schools were deserted. All activities are carried out at home. The government spreads a motto, “Work from home. Learn from home. Worship at home.” 

Because all the residents carry out their activities at home, one of the problems that arose at the outset was that residential internet connections in urban areas were slower than usual, due to a surge in access of around 30%. How about the rural ones?

Data from WeAreSocial and Hootsuite (January, 2020) show that Indonesian internet users are 175.4 million which means only 64% of them are internet users. Unfortunately it is not specified to urban-rural population percentage. Thus, it impacts remote education program carried out during PSBB.

Research by INOVASI in April 2020 showed that the more remote a province is, the smaller the percentage of students who participate in online learning. In East Java, 40% of respondents said their children get online learning. However, in In West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) online learning is less than 10% and in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) less than 5%. The rest keep learning through offline books and student worksheets.

The gap in online learning access from home is shown by the results of a study which states that only 28% of respondents use online media, both conference app and other applications. The use of offline learning media using books and student worksheets is the dominant method (66%) used by teachers. The rest, which is about 6% of parents say there is no learning as long as students are asked to learn from home.

This is worrying since there are approximately 45 million or around 20% of Indonesia’s population currently attending elementary to high school education expecting to be educated.

Learning from Home program on TVRI. Source:

To solve this, the Indonesian government made study materials available through programs on government-owned national TV agency (TVRI). TV program Learning from Home on TVRI will last for 3 months, from April to July 2020. Its program is made per class segment, starting from pre-kindergaten to final year in high school. Considering the penetration of the use of television media in Indonesia reached 96%, let’s hope that this program runs successfully.

The key takeaways

It is obvious that the ICT implementation is not a cure-for-all. Human and other non-technical aspects play a bigger role to support the effectiveness of the deployed ICT measures. Clarity on the information supplied, as well as human common sense must serve as the controlling value in using ICT to combat covid-19. In addition to that, creativity to encourage innovation to solve problems is often necessary. As evidenced by the use of national TV to deliver education programs, an alternative toward the use of digital technology is an appropriate combination to solve problems that digital technology could not.

This article was made for Youth4IG Covid 19 Analysis Blog Series and was published at




Bhredipta Socarana

Coordinator of the Organizing Committee of Indonesia Youth IGF, under direct coordination of IGF Secretariat Global based in Geneva administered under UNDESA. He is an admitted lawyer in Indonesia, Certified Information Privacy Professional/Europe by International Association of Privacy Professional (IAPP), Certified Creative Commons Educator, and Master of Laws (LLM) student from Berkeley Law, University of California Berkeley. He was a ISOC Youth@IGF Fellow in 2017.

Svaradiva A. Devi

Chairperson Internet Development Institute (ID Institute). She is currently a personal staff of Presidential Spokesperson, and a final year Master of Communication Science student at Universitas Indonesia. She used to work at PANDI .id Registry, and was a fellow at APNIC 48.

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