The American Civil Liberties Union has raised concerns about Apple and Google’s joint contact tracing effort to to help alert people who have been in close proximity to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
The ACLU says this, and similar proposals, differ from the traditional public health technique of “contact tracing” to try to stop the spread of a disease. In place of human interviewers, they would use location or proximity data generated by mobile phones to contact people who may have been exposed.
The ACLU has this to say: “While some of these systems could offer public health benefits, they may also cause significant risks to privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties. If such systems are to work, there must be widespread, free, and quick testing available. The systems must also be widely adopted, but that will not happen if people do not trust them. For there to be trust, the tool must protect privacy, be voluntary, and store data on an individual’s device rather than in a centralized repository.”
What’s more, according to The Guardian, NHS — the British health service’s digital innovation unit — is in a standoff with Apple and Google after the two tech firms refused to support the UK’s plans to build an app that alerts users when they have been in contact with someone with coronavirus.
On April 10, Apple and Google announced a joint effort to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of COVID-19. They’ll launch a solution that includes APIs and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing. Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy
First, in May, both companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores. Second, in the coming months, Apple and Google will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms.