NAAG Urges Apple and Google to Further Protect the Privacy of Users of COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps

On June 16, 2020, The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) wrote a letter to Google and Apple to convey concern about consumer privacy associated with COVID-19 contact tracing and exposure notification software. NAAG has recommendations to help secure the personally identifiable information and sensitive health data of the hundreds of thousands of people who will be advised to download the apps to help manage COVID-19.

Although digital contact tracing could offer a useful tool to track the spread of COVID-19 and support the public health action to the pandemic, such technology poses a threat to consumers’ personally identifiable information, including sensitive health information, that could keep going much longer the present public health emergency finishes.

Privacy protections are important for making sure that users of the apps do not have sensitive data exposed or utilized for intentions other than assisting to handle the spread of COVID-19. Without privacy protections, users probably won’t download the apps, which will reduce their effectiveness. A study performed by the University of Oxford indicates that to achieve the aims of the apps, there must be an uptake of about 60% of a populace. If customers feel their privacy is in danger, that figure won’t be achieved.

Current perceptions concerning the privacy protections associated with COVID-19 contact tracing apps were looked into in a recent survey carried out on behalf of the antivirus company Avira. Of the 2,005 respondents in the United States, 71% reported they do not have a plan to utilize the apps if they are offered. 44% were worried about digital privacy, 39% stated the apps offered a false sense of security, 37% stated they think the apps won’t work, and 35% do not believe the app companies.

The survey unveiled that the majority of consumers do not have confidence in Apple and Google to safeguard the data gathered by the programs. Just 32% of respondents stated they believe the companies to safeguard their sensitive data, though both companies have taken action to implement privacy and security controls. There is even reduced trust in the government. Just 14% of respondents mentioned they would believe in contact tracing apps given directly by the government. 75% of U.S. citizens mentioned they think their digital privacy would be in danger when COVID-19 contact tracing information was made accessible to the government and authorities.

The letter that 39 state attorneys general signed had raised concerns regarding the different contact tracing apps available in the Google Play and Apple App Store. These apps are usually free to get and use and have in-app ads to make income. Instead of using Google and Apple’s API and Bluetooth for determining possible exposure, the apps rely on GPS tracking.

The state AGs furthermore stated concern that as more and more public health authorities start to release contact tracing apps that utilize the Google and Apple API, it is probable that many more developers will begin launching apps, and those apps may not have the required privacy and security configurations to abide by states’ policies.

Google and Apple were recognized for taking steps to make sure that consumer privacy is secured. NAAG has asked any contact tracing application that is labeled or sold as associated with COVID-19 to be associated with either a municipal, county, state, or federal public health agency, or a hospital or university in America that is working with such public health authorities.

NAAG moreover required Google and Apple to ensure that all COVID-19 contact tracing applications will be taken out from Google Play and the Apple App Store in case they aren’t associated with the above organizations, and for Google and Apple to pledge that all COVID-19 apps will be taken out from Google Play and the App Store as soon as the COVID-19 national public health emergency ends.