The growing desire to end the global lockdown caused by the deadly coronavirus pandemic is leading governments to turn to apps that will track everyone’s movements — and that is giving privacy advocates panic attacks.
As restrictions loosen and many Americans flocked to beaches and barbecues this past Memorial Day weekend, businesses and governments are still seeking ways to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
One approach involves mobile-phone apps aimed at monitoring who has the coronavirus and their contacts have been launched worldwide, but privacy advocates have concerns.
Three US states: Alabama, North Dakota, and South Carolina have signed up to use Exposure Notification, an API (application programming interface) for contact tracing produced by Apple and Google that was released on May 20. Several other states and 22 countries, including some in Europe, have also requested use of the API, the companies said.
Tech giants Apple and Google, which control the world’s two most popular smartphone operating systems, introduced software that will enable public health apps to track people who come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, which officials have said is key to stopping the disease’s spread. But tools and apps that are being used to collect data on people’s whereabouts can be misused by governments, privacy advocates say.
It is believed that at least 60 percent of Americans need to sign up and use the apps for the system to work.
Apple and Alphabet Inc, Google's parent, said in a statement: "User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage the use of these apps."
Worldwide, governments believe that the apps, along with testing, are key to getting the public back to work safely.
More than 1.66 million people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus, and at least 98,000 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, some 5.5 million are infected, with a death toll around 344,000.