Apple and Google Ban Use of Location Data for Contact Tracing Apps

Tech giants Apple and Google, who together have their operating systems running on 99% of all smartphones, announced last month that they would work together to create a system for notifying people who have been near others who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The companies are planning for only public health authorities to use the technology.

The two massive companies have stated that privacy and preventing governments from using the system to compile data on citizens was of paramount importance and their primary goal. The system uses Bluetooth signals from phones to detect encounters and does not use or store GPS location data.

Reuters, however, was told last month by developers of official coronavirus-related apps in several U.S. states that it would be vital they be allowed to use GPS location data in conjunction with the new contact tracing system to track how outbreaks move and identify hotspots.

The Apple-Google decision to effectively ban GPS data collection with their contact tracing system will require public health authorities that want to access GPS location to rely on what Apple and Google have described as unstable, battery-draining workarounds.

Some apps have said that they are planning to stick to their own approaches. Software company Twenty, for example, developer of Utah’s Healthy Together contact tracing app with both GPS and Bluetooth, said on Monday the app “operates effectively” without the new Apple-Google tool.

“If their approach can be more effective than our current solution, we’ll eagerly incorporate their features into our existing application, provided it meets the specifications of current and prospective public health partners,” says Twenty.

In Canada’s Alberta province, officials have said that they do not plan to use Apple-Google in their efforts to trace the virus using its ABTraceTogether app.

Privacy experts have warned that any cache of location data related to health issues could make businesses and individuals vulnerable to being ostracized if the data is exposed. Apple and Google also said Monday they will allow only one app per country to use the contact system, to avoid fragmentation and encourage wider adoption.

The new system could be used for the tracing app being developed in South Africa, however, there has been no official word as of yet.

Edited by Luis Monzon

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