Contact Tracing

Contact Tracing Apps Prompt Privacy Concerns

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Contact tracing apps could help speed up the recovery process through the pandemic, but how much privacy are you willing to jeopardize in the process?

“I’m just one of those people that it’s about the health benefit for most people. So I’m not all that concerned about my privacy. That if it we were an at-risk population be healthy then I’d be happy to share who I was with and where I was -- that would not be a concern of mine,” Kate Doughtery of West Hartford said. 

In April, Apple and Google teamed up to provide a contact tracing platform that allows users with the same app on their phone to be contacted if one person they came in contact with later tests positive. 

Last week Attorney General William Tong along with 39 other attorneys general sent a letter to Apple and Google to promise the apps they offer will be affiliated with a public health authority and be removed from Google Play and the App store once they are no longer needed for public health.  

“A variety of people are offering these apps, it’s not necessarily Apple or Google, or any of the big technology firms," Tong says.

Tong says there are probably a lot of app developers out there doing this in good faith but they’re concerned about the potential for abuse.  

“I think the concern is what controls are there and what safeguards are there with respect to these apps,” Tong says. 

Tong says he expects many people will download these apps and not understand what they are agreeing to, which is why they’ve asked Apple and Google to make sure the apps on their platform are tied to a public health authority.  

Tong says while they have not heard back from Apple and Google, he expects them to be responsive. 

“The idea in their approach is to make or promise the data has been made as private and anonymized as possible, however, it’s not always. It’s often not effective.”  Vahid Behzadan, an associate professor of engineering at the University of New Haven, says.

He said the aggregation of that data by private companies -- along with other data such as credit card use or social media can reveal your identity.  

“Data aggregation in privacy preservation is a huge issue,” Behzadan says. 

 That’s not to say we should go back to using telephones and people.   

“I believe that if the economic impact of COVID-19 gets any worse than what it has become currently, it is not only the socially responsible thing to do using these contact tracing apps, but also it may be in your personal interest because committing to sharing some of your private information with a public health authority can help with speeding up the recovery process, the economic recovery process and the containment process,” Behzadan says.

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