Adoption and usage of

COVID-19 mHealth apps in Asia


The year 2020 has seen the world united like never before in a battle against a common enemy: COVID-19. The most powerful weaponry deployed? Tech. As the pandemic has claimed lives and countries have scrambled to cope, many have adopted technology in their frantic efforts to flatten the curve. One of the most common tools implemented has been the COVID-19 mobile app.

Singapore was one of the first countries to launch such an app. Called TraceTogether, the mobile health (mHealth) app aims to minimize the spread of COVID-19 through community-driven contact tracing. Soon after, many countries – including Malaysia, Korea, and Indonesia – followed suit. Each country has its own unique app with a different focus functionality. Key objectives of these apps include contact tracing, symptom monitoring, quarantine enforcement, and information sharing.

GMO Research conducted a survey on the adoption and usage of COVID-19 mHealth apps in five different countries across Asia: Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. This article highlights important trends and behavioral patterns in the different parts of Asia to give you an insight into consumer preferences in this diverse region.

According to the survey, 100% of respondents in Malaysia say they are using some kind of health and wellness app, with 78.6% using COVID-19-related ones. This is the highest number reported among the five countries surveyed. In comparison, the other countries recorded a 10–20% adoption rate of COVID-19 apps, with Japan registering the lowest adoption rate at 10.7%.

In April 2020, Malaysia developed and launched the MySejahtera app, aimed at helping the government to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, and at the same time enabling users to monitor their health during the pandemic. By August 2020, the app had been downloaded by 13.3 million users.

The survey goes further to investigate the usage levels of COVID-19 apps among the respondents. In Malaysia, out of those who downloaded a COVID-19 app, 41.3% reported activating the app, with 16.8% actually using the app to report a positive COVID-19 test result. In Korea, only 23.6% of respondents who downloaded a COVID-19 app reported activating the app, the lowest rate in the region.

Despite this low usage rate, Korea is one of the role-model countries touted to have contained the pandemic with remarkable success. This is due to the fact that Korea adopted a government-initiated strategy that relies on extensive testing, fully subsidized medical treatment, and GPS technology to keep close tabs on the pandemic, which helped the country to stem the spread of the outbreak before the number of cases got out of hand.

Among the respondents who did not download a COVID-19 app, the top reason given for not doing so was the possible misuse of personal information. This is consistent with ongoing debates all over the world regarding personal data privacy concerns associated with the use of COVID-19 apps. During a virus outbreak, many people are hungry for information on infected cases and hot zones, but few are willing to share their own health data.

According to the survey, as many as 51% of respondents in Indonesia who had not downloaded any COVID-19 apps said they were concerned about the misuse of personal information, signalling a certain level of distrust in the government. As a matter of fact, contact tracers in Indonesia often encounter threats and assaults in the course of their work. This has greatly dampened efforts to contain the pandemic.

Most respondents also cited privacy concerns around activating the COVID-19 apps they had downloaded, with the exception of Thailand, where the top reason given for not activating the downloaded app was difficulty in usage.

As many countries are experiencing a second wave of the pandemic, governments are constantly tweaking strategies in their efforts to contain the outbreak. Even as developers of contact-tracing apps give assurances that location data will not be collected and the minimal personal information that is collected will be encrypted, only to be used when contact tracing is necessary, many people are still reluctant to adopt the technology. From the implementation point of view, for such apps to be effective, a 75% take-up rate is necessary. This has driven some governments to consider making it mandatory for citizens to use a common designated contact-tracing app, in the hope of winning this long-drawn-out battle.


*About this survey: This survey was conducted online by GMO Research from October 6th to October 13th on a sample of 4,861 respondents from Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Japan Indonesia Malaysia Thailand Korea mHealth apps Covid19 apps mobile health apps