Updated: May 12
The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a massive blow to humanity worldwide. America bore the brunt of the pandemic, with over 1 million reported deaths as of June 2022.
Naturally, governments and organizations worldwide had to do something drastic to prevent further losses.
One of the simplest ways to prevent and monitor the disease spread was COVID app tracking. They gained widespread usage. For example, 21% of Australia’s population installed a government-approved COVID-19 tracking app as of July 2020. A COVID app tracks people’s movement and proved quite effective in contact tracing. As the disease resurges in the US, the apps might become prominent again.
But what made COVID apps so effective also turned into their Achilles’ heel? Data privacy, or, more accurately, lack of data privacy. A case in Germany perfectly illustrated how COVID app, COVID app tracking, and data privacy concerns go hand-in-hand. Keep reading to find out more.
What Sparked the COVID Tracking Apps Privacy Fears?
On the first week of January 2022, German law enforcement officers in Frankfurt came under fire for misusing the COVID app tracking software, Luca, to track and identify possible witnesses in a death case.
They petitioned health authorities to surrender data from the Luca COVID app, which records how long people visit an establishment.
That helped them generate a 21-person list of potential witnesses. So far, so good.
Here comes the not-so-good part: this goes against the law. The only way to use the data is if the establishment and the local health department consent to its unencrypted.
Further, only the health department has the authority to use the unencrypted, and they can only use it for contact-tracing purposes. On the other hand, in January 2021, the Singaporean government made an abrupt turnaround over COVID contact tracing data, proclaiming the police were free to use the data for criminal investigations.
Reuters reported that the Singapore police basically had unrestricted access to users’ location data. While the police say that they only use this data for criminal investigations, there are inquiries into the possible misuse of this data.
How America is Handling the COVID Apps Data Privacy Issues
So, shouldn’t you give corporations and governments access to your data, especially for a life-and-death matter, such as COVID?
History has repeatedly shown how providing the government with access to your private data is a terrible idea.
The government has lost data through poor security procedures and human error, as was the case of the exposure of 191 million Americans’ personal information.
Corporations are no better as they typically collect more information than they should, selling this data as advertising. They usually overstep their bounds in their quest to sell ads.
Americans are wary of how apps generally abuse data privacy. It has become too easy to access and track personal data, especially in a centralized system.
Take Facebook, for instance. The app will keep tracking your location even when you are not using the app.
Even though Google and Apple made a big splash about addressing data privacy, 80% of US companies said they were hacked successfully by cybercriminals intending to make public vital data does not instill confidence.
It’s no wonder 71% of respondents said they wouldn’t install COVID contact-tracing apps, citing data privacy issues.
How to Utilize COVID-19 Tracking Apps While Ensuring Your Data Privacy
With that dark cloud hanging over your head, it’s difficult to trust contact-tracing apps, however crucial they may be in the fight against COVID. Thankfully, there are ways you can use them and keep personal data safe:
1. Confirm the Application’s Data Usage
The primary way to go about it is scrutinizing the app’s terms of service for explanations of what they will do with your data. Read the fine print to get a clearer picture of how to secure your health information.
The apps should state explicitly how they will use and protect your data. If they don’t or are ambiguous in their explanation, that’s a red flag, so don’t install.
2. Ensure the App Does Not Need Unnecessary Permissions
When you install the app, it typically asks permission to use other features of your phone. For example, it would make sense for an app like Facebook to want access to your camera so you can upload photos.
However, it isn’t ok for them to have unlimited access to your location information, something they do even when you’re not using the app.
3. Use a Decentralized App
Apps that utilize the decentralized structure do not save data in a single, centralized location. Instead, they operate directly from the user’s mobile device, which is excellent for data privacy.
Americans are cautious about installing COVID apps over data privacy, and who can blame them? There’ve been too many instances of data breaches and privacy abuses for them to keep trusting blindly, and there is scant protection against instances of data misuse.