Select Page

Google and Apple to lead data privacy in the global pandemic

by | Apr 21, 2020

What happens to privacy in a global pandemic? This question continues to be debated as countries like Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom move into what is assumed to be the peak of COVID-19 spreading in their countries. 

The world watched as countries like South Korea and China introduced grave measures to track its citizens, essentially stripping their privacy rights. But as numbers continue to rise in the western world, governments are looking to implement similar tracking technologies into their own citizen’s devices. 

At the frontlines of the tracing-app, is the U.K.’s National Health Service’s health technology development unit (NHSX). The U.K.’s contract-tracing app would track COVID-19 positive patients and alert the people they had been in contact with. 

However, prior to their launching of the app, big tech companies Google and Apple released their joint contact-tracing system, limiting invasive apps on their devices and therefore derailing the development of the app. 

Google and Apple have released that they are not releasing an app themselves, but instead a set of ‘privacy-focused API’s” to ensure that governments are not releasing invasive apps onto their citizen’s devices. 

Countries like Singapore that have these contact tracing apps on phones have problems that Google and Apple are looking to avoid. Issues including requiring citizens to leave their phones unlocked or severe battery drainage. 

Google and Apple have informed that these Bluetooth-systems will run in the background and work even when the phone is locked. They have also released that this system will cease to run once the pandemic is over. 

The two big tech companies have created a high standard for privacy in the pandemic age. They will have to grant permission not only for the government applications to go live but for health authorities to access the technology (source). They have also released that they are developing policies on whether they will allow tracing apps to gather location. 

One Oxford University researcher said that around two-thirds of a country’s population would need to be involved for the contact tracing to be effective. However, the top U.S. infection diseases export says that many Americans would be inclined to reject any contact-tracing app that knowingly collects their location data.

The idea behind the Google/Apple partnership is to ensure governments are not forcing highly invasive technologies onto its citizens, and that while the world is engulfed in its chaos, personal privacy remains as intact as possible.

The NHSX has continued with its app development. However, it is alleged that they are in close contact with the Apple/Google partnership. The European Commission told one reporter that “mobile apps should be based on anonymized data and work with other apps in E.U. countries.” 

As the world struggles to contain this virus’ spread, apps and systems such as the Google/Apple partnerships could have a great effect on how COVID19 is managed. It’s important going forward not only to pay attention to how our data is being managed, but also how our anonymized data can be helped to save others.