Japan’s Digital Minister Admits Failings in COVID Contact-Tracing App

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The COCOA app is seen on a smartphone in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, in May 2022.

Digital minister Taro Kono has admitted that the government’s COVID-19 contact-tracing app, COCOA, was inadequately maintained and lacked a strong operational framework.

Kono presented a summary Friday regarding the COVID-19 Contact-Confirming Application. The summary stated that the app “was not sufficiently developed.” Positing possible steps to cope with a future pandemic, the summary, which was written by the Digital Agency and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, suggested that infected people be mandatorily registered; registration was voluntary for COCOA.

According to the summary, “The app lacked the involvement of infectious disease control experts and there was insufficient time for the parties involved to adequately review its usage.”

The summary also noted that COCOA did not perform effectively, saying, “There was insufficient discussion of specifications that would have contributed to epidemiological studies [to determine the source of infection based on behavioral history and other factors.]”

Speaking at a press conference following a Cabinet meeting on the day, Kono said the problems were caused by a lack of political leadership.

COCOA launched in June 2020. As of November 2022, it had been downloaded about 41.28 million times and registered about 3.69 million virus-positive cases. However, inadequacies came to light, such as some devices not receiving contact notifications.

According to a survey of COCOA users, less than 20% received a notification saying they may have been in contact with an infected person. About 60% of the respondents said “there was nothing good” about the app.

Regarding future app development, the summary suggested establishing in advance a system to secure human resources across the government to cope with a possible pandemic and to utilize apps that people use on a regular basis.

COCOA has been discontinued.