Apple, Google Partner On Contact-Tracing Technology: ‘Black Communities Will Be Tracked The Most’

Apple, Google Partner On Contact-Tracing Technology: ‘Black Communities Will Be Tracked The Most’

Tech giants Apple and Google are partnering with the U.S. government to produce contact-tracing technology they say will help curb the spread of the coronavirus in the absence of a federally enforced privacy law. Photo by Rasheed Kemy on Unsplash

This article has been updated to include comments by Angela Benton and links to a petition opposing location tracking and data-sharing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Apple and Google have partnered to use their technology to help the U.S. government fight the coronavirus pandemic by improving contact-tracing efforts and helping public health officials to track the spread of COVID-19.

While the technology could help curb the spread of the coronavirus, the new tool also brings to the fore a host of privacy and security concerns that have bedeviled the two tech giants for some time.

“Black communities will be tracked the most,” said Angela Benton, a Miami-based data privacy entrepreneur, in an email to Moguldom.

Apple and Google said in a joint statement that they will launch a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces and operating system-level technology to assist with contact tracing.

Public health officials have identified contact tracing as a valuable tool to help contain the COVID-19 spread.

The contact-tracing tool Apple and Google want to create would have your smartphone log via Bluetooth when you’ve come into close contact with other people.

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Bluetooth contact tracing uses a relative signal strength indicator to detect when one device is near another, and for how long.

Benton has launched a petition on Change.org to limit location tracking and data-sharing during the coronavirus pandemic.

African Americans are disproportionately affected by the virus and have had the highest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in some U.S. states.

“They will access our location data as well as COVID-19 status to try to track the spread of the virus,” said Benton.” “This is fine as we are in a state of emergency except for the fact that we don’t currently have any federal privacy laws in place.”

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How it will work: Phones will collect unique identifiers from other phones near them throughout the day and vice versa. They will also download unique identifiers for those newly testing positive for COVID-19.

If there is a match, the phone user receives a locally relevant alert—monitor for symptoms, get tested, self-isolate—without breaching their privacy, according to Forbes.

Google and Apple plan to start rolling out contact-tracing in mid-May via an app for consumers who use their phones — a combined 3 billion people, Benton said.

Benton said lawmakers must enforce a federal privacy law that:

  • Limits how long consumer data is accessed during national states of emergency;
  • Enforces a universal data standard so that consumers have access to all their data in one data file;
  • Ensure that consumers can also easily access, download, and/or electronically transfer their data file to or between services of their choosing.

Sign Angela Benton’s petition here.