In their bid to contain the spread of coronavirus, various companies are coming up with mobile applications to keep the users updated about the transmission zones and contact patterns by tracking their devices.
However, rumors about COVID-19 contact-tracing apps like Healthy Together and AB TraceTogether tracking personal information including the contacts and Facebook friends list on the device, have raised privacy issues amongst the netizens.
Users Scared About Parting With Personal Data
The COVID-19 tracing apps launched uses Bluetooth and GPS to track the user's location, only after taking requisite permission by them. In turn, the apps provide data to the public health workers about the transmission zones and contact patterns, making it easier to track the virus contamination.
According to Snopes, a fact-checking website, in a series of posts on Facebook, many users pointed out about the COVOD-19 tracing apps stealing information from the user's device to "identify, track or locate" various contacts on their phones or their Facebook friends lists.
The social media site users posted messages asking people using the apps on their devices to remove them from their FB Friend's list. In one such post, user Kimberly J Back wrote: "If any of my friends and contacts will be downloading the Covid19 app to their smartphones please delete me from your phone contact list, as well as Facebook, before installing this app on your smartphone IF it wants permission to access to your contacts. You do not have my consent to use my phone number in connection with your app to identify, track, or locate me without my knowledge or consent."
Apps Can't Access Data Without Permission
Despite being in the initial stages of testing, the apps can't access any details stored in the device without the permission of its user. Furthermore, the app traces the location of the user on a voluntary basis. The website clarifies that the location of those who haven't downloaded the app, cannot be tracked from someone's device having access to the app. As far as tracking contacts from the device are concerned, the same cannot be done without granting permission to the app by the device user.
Speaking to The Daily Universe, Jeff Jenkins, associate professor of Information Systems at the Brigham Young University, Marriott School of Business, said: "In some cases, people are more concerned about the government having access to that same information because the government has a greater power to take action. This worry is exacerbated if you are not fully aware of how they will use the information."
"The app gives users a reasonable amount of control over their data, even if it's not totally clear how the data will be used. With any app, there is a tradeoff between the intended benefit — in this case, combating COVID-19 — and privacy," he went on to add.