Senators Concerned About COVID-19 Health Data Leak

Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Menendez -- a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, which sets national health policy -- led a group who on Wednesday sent separate letters to the Trump Administration and Google raising concerns over privacy and cybersecurity vulnerabilities involving a third-party company creating a website to test Americans for COVID-19.

“There are [a] myriad [of] privacy concerns about such an endeavor, including: whether people will be required to sign waivers forfeiting their privacy and personal data in order to access the questionnaire; whether the private company responsible for launching and maintaining the website will be prohibited from using data received through the website for commercial purposes; and whether the private company will be prohibited from selling any data collected through the website to a third-party,” wrote several senators in a letter to U.S. VP Mike Pence.



Those senators include Robert Menendez, Sherrod Brown, Richard Blumenthal, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker. Each have been known to show distain for the Trump administration.    

Google said on Tuesday that it would limit access the federal government will have to its massive collection of user location data, even as it said it would help the government try to slow the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Earlier this month, an official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reportedly said that Google's location data was being used to observe “travel patterns,” which in turn could help to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. It also reportedly said it might not be the best way to help.

“We’re exploring ways that aggregated anonymized location information could help in the fight against COVID-19,” a Google spokesperson told Bloomberg in an email on Wednesday. 

The biggest concern of the senators is the recent data breaches at Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp, Equifax, and Capital One, among others.

Never say never when it comes to a data breach. It's likely that Google would not admit to being one hundred percent protected from hackers.

In addition to its sister company Verily’s COVID-19 testing website, Google did partner with the U.S. government to build its own informational website that will house information on COVID-19 related to education, prevention, and local resources nationwide.

It will include links to authoritative information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as helpful tips and tools from Google for individuals, teachers and businesses.

The search engine also launched a “home page promotion” on Google Search last Saturday supported by the WHO to promote greater awareness of simple measures that people can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The company is also working on launching a bigger informational website in consultation with partners that would include information about COVID-19 symptoms and the testing sites.

YouTube is using its home page to direct visitors to videos from the CDC or other locally relevant public health agencies.

Content from authoritative sources is being highlighted when people search for COVID-19. Information is being inserted into panels to provide additional context from high-quality sources.

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