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Apple, Google ban use of location tracking in contact tracing apps

by Rahul Chauhan
1 minutes read

Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc.’s Google said Monday they would ban the use of location tracking in apps that use a new contact tracking system the two are building to slow down the spread of the new corona virus. Apple and Google, whose operating system powers 99% of smartphones, said last month that they would work together to create a system for informing people who have been around others who have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The companies plan to allow only public health authorities to use the technology. Both companies said privacy and preventing governments from using the system to collect data about citizens was a primary goal. The system uses phone bluetooth signals to detect encounters and does not use or store GPS location data.

But developers of official coronavirus-related apps in several U.S. states told Reuters last month that it was vital that they were allowed to use GPS location data in conjunction with the new contact tracking system to track how outbreaks are moving and identify hotspots. Apple and Google said they will not allow the use of GPS data along with the contact tracking systems. The decision requires public health authorities who want to use GPS location data to rely on unstable solutions to detect encounters with Bluetooth sensors.

Privacy experts have warned that any cache of location data related to health issues can leave companies and individuals vulnerable to exclusion if the data is exposed. Authorities and their app developers could reject the Apple Google restrictions and instead use a more basic Bluetooth-based system to sign in with who users have come across. But the system would likely miss some encounters as iPhones and Android devices turn off Bluetooth connections after some time to save battery and other reasons unless users remember to activate them again.

Apple and Google also said on Monday that they will only allow one app per country to use the new contact system, to avoid fragmentation and encourage wider adoption. However, the companies said they would support countries that choose a state or regional approach, and that US states are allowed to use the system.

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