Some Coronavirus Apps and Tracking Tools Are Raising Privacy Concerns

Apps may help to slow the spread of the virus, but they also bring up privacy questions.
Fabienne Lang

As the coronavirus spreads around the world, some countries and companies are using technology to try and slow its range. One such way is creating and using apps and tracking tools to warn people who may have come across someone with coronavirus. 

Even though the thought may be in the right place, the moves raise questions of privacy amongst many people. 


Install an app and be warned about the coronavirus

Here are some of the ways certain countries are trying to use technology to curb the spread of the coronavirus: 

In the U.S., 43 tech workers and academics from MIT, Harvard, the Mayo Clinic, Google and Facebook created a team to work on an app that alerts people whether they crossed paths with someone with the virus. 

Some Coronavirus Apps and Tracking Tools Are Raising Privacy Concerns
Private Kit: Safety Paths app, Source: MIT

It does depend on people downloading the free app called Private Kit: Safe Paths, pressing a button confirming if they tested positive for the coronavirus, and then others who also downloaded the app receive a warning message to warn them. 

The creators stressed that privacy concerns were high on their priority list and that the app's users' data is encrypted and culled with a network that doesn't have a central node. The main issue here is that the app would have to be downloaded in a widespread manner for it to actually work. 

Other nations such as Israel have come under close scrutiny upon stating on Wednesday that it will be using mass surveillance tools to track the movements of coronavirus carriers. The country's Health Ministry has already placed 400 people under quarantine through the use of the tool but has also faced harsh criticism over privacy concerns. 

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The tracking tool aims to alert and place under quarantine people who have in the past two weeks been within two meters for 10 minutes with someone with coronavirus. The messages don't reveal the infected person's name or any other identifying details, but is still being questioned given people have not given consent to being tracked. 

In other parts of the world such as in South Korea, other apps are being used to help warn citizens of the whereabouts of people infected with coronavirus. Embarrassingly, it is also shedding light on exact locations, uncovering some dirty little secrets. Some people's plastic surgery was brought to light, while others' extramarital affairs are laid bare for all to see.

The app lets people know if they were in close proximity with someone infected with COVID-19, offering precise time and location. Some apps, such as Corona 100m even lets people know if they were within 100m of the infected person. Health authorities and district offices are also sending safety guidance text messages day in and day out, reminding people to wash their hands and to not touch their faces.

In Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began and where people are still under lockdown, local authorities have been sending text messages to let them know not to leave their homes or drive to work. 

It seems like more and more countries are turning to technology to spread the news and keep a watchful eye on their citizens — these measures may prove useful or may panic people.

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