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Tracking COVID-19: is your private information safe?

Apple and Google are developing new smartphone tools to track COVID-19 cases and who interacts with them

For the past two and a half weeks, Apple and Google have been working to develop technology that can track confirmed cases of COVID-19 and inform people if they come into contact with those individuals.
For the past two and a half weeks, Apple and Google have been working to develop technology that can track confirmed cases of COVID-19 and inform people if they come into contact with those individuals.
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Google and Apple are teaming up to create a set of tech tools for smartphones that can track COVID-19 in order to warn people if they’ve come into contact with the virus, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced on Twitter.

The new tools, which will potentially be released as early as next month, use Bluetooth technology to track when smartphones come into contact with one another, helping public authorities trace the people someone has recently been in contact with after they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, CNET reports.

While the technology has great potential to help slow the spread of COVID-19 by tracking which infected (and non-infected) individuals you come in contact with, Vox reports people are concerned about the new technology’s impact on their right to privacy: Not only does the technology track your location, but can also potentially reveal health information some would rather keep to themselves.

One of the main concerns, Forbes points out, is that opting out of the program could present itself as difficult. Since it is produced by both Google and Apple, it’s available for all Android and iOS smartphones, which dominate the market, and usually already have received location tracking permissions from users through apps like Google or Apple Maps. Many people are reluctant to share this amount of private data with the tech giants.

Luckily, an additional Forbes report says that each stage of the notification process requires an individual’s explicit permissions and will be opt-in based, rather than opt-out. Installing the tracing tools will be completely voluntary, as will be reporting a COVID-19 diagnosis once you’ve downloaded the tools.

The remaining issue, Forbes reports, is that while the companies won’t enforce the new tools, some governments might, and require mandatory data sharing with its officials.

Nevertheless, the potential privacy sacrifices may be the key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 and reducing potential deaths, as the Wall Street Journal reports similar technologies are being used and found effective in China, Singapore, Israel and South Korea — but only if at least 60% of the population uses them.