U.S. Senate to unveil bipartisan bill to regulate contact tracing apps over privacy concerns

The U.S. Senate plans to unveil bipartisan legislation Monday to introduce regulations on COVID-19 contact tracing and exposure notification apps, seeking to ensure new digital tools meant to combat the coronavirus don’t come at the expense of users’ privacy.

contact tracing privacy? Apple-Google COVID-19 contact-tracing scheme

Tony Romm for The Washington Post:

The proposal, called the “Exposure Notification Privacy Act,” would erect federal guardrails around Silicon Valley’s nascent efforts to track people’s movements and alert them whenever they come in close contact with someone who has tested positive for covid-19. Democrats and Republicans led by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) say the legislation is necessary to ensure tracking isn’t forced on those who don’t want it — and to ensure any data that’s collected isn’t put to commercial use.

Cantwell added she’s personally disinclined to use contact-tracing technologies herself in the absence of strong regulations. “We’re all irritated our browser history might be sold a thousand times over,” she said, “but when its your healthcare history it’s a whole new realm.”

A wide array of tech giants, app developers and private employers have pursued contact-tracing and exposure notification tools in recent months… Apple and Google, for example, rolled out a notification system in May that allows people with a confirmed coronavirus diagnosis to notify people who have previously been in their close proximity.

“This is a matter of perception. It’s not an indictment of Google,” added Cassidy, a doctor by background before arriving in the Senate. “We’re making sure people are comfortable with this.”

Public confidence in these public-health tools is low, as half of Americans say they are unlikely to use the infection-alert apps adopted by Apple and Google, according to a poll conducted by the Post and the University of Maryland in April… The permission required under the bill helps to combat concerns that workers may be forced into installing tracking software by their employers, Democratic and Republican lawmakers said, adding that businesses would be prohibited from discriminating against people who decline to participate.

MacDailyNews Take: As we’ve written ad infinitum, no matter how convoluted well-designed the Apple-Google contact tracing system is on paper, in practice too few people will install and use it. These apps are designed to provide a digital security blanket to help increase confidence for going back to work more than anything else.

Centralized or decentralized, the whole thing is pie-in-the-sky piffle. Coronavirus contact tracing / exposure notification apps are nothing more than pablum for the masses. It’s simply a case of governments wanting to be able to tell citizens, “Want to feel safe while getting back to work, shopping, going out to eat, vacationing, etc.? There’s an app for that. Don’t worry. Be happy. Download this app and go about your business.”

Might these apps help in some cases to get the relatively few people who will use them to seek testing or self-quarantine if/when the alarm goes off? Of course. But, overall, these apps are little more than security blankets for the citizenry to clutch on their way to herd immunity and, for governments that use a centralized system, to track the spread of infections on the way to herd immunity.

More about the myriad issues of Bluetooth COVID-19 contact tracing apps can be found in our Takes here, here and here.

How to opt out of COVID-19 contact tracing in iOS 13.5

1. Open the Settings app.
2. Scroll down and tap on Privacy.
3. Tap on Health.
4. Tap on COVID-19 Exposure Logging.
5. Tap the toggle to turn the feature off.

COVID-19 Exposure Logging is set to “Off” by default.

Lastly, Apple should be careful here. Google has an awful reputation regarding user privacy. Apple must be wary of tarnishing (or destroying) the reputation for user privacy that they’ve carefully built over many years with a system that not only involves Google, of all companies, but that also has a slew of obvious privacy issues.MacDailyNews, April 13, 2020

2 Comments

  1. I just took a look at my 13.5 iPhone and I see that COVID-19 exposure is off by default and in fact says it cannot be turned on unless you install an “authorized app that can send Exposure Notifications.”

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.