New York Attorney General Letitia James on Monday urged Google and Apple to crack down on COVID-19 contact-tracing apps that may pose privacy risks.
In letters to both companies, James requested that their app stores only offer COVID-19 contact-tracing apps developed by public health agencies. She also urged the companies to require contact-tracing apps to conspicuously disclose their privacy practices -- including the type of data collected.
Additionally, she is requesting that Google and Apple bar developers of contact-tracing apps from using data to identify users, and from using targeted advertising or in-app sales.
“Apps can play an important role in helping stop the spread of COVID-19, but more needs to be done to protect consumers’ personal information and to minimize consumer confusion,” she wrote in separate letters to both companies. “It is imperative that apps that use sensitive health information be developed only by public health agencies, to ensure that appropriate protections are in place and to provide accountability,” she added.
Google and Apple are readying tools that can be used by public health authorities to develop contact-tracing apps. The companies have said the system will be voluntary and will not collect data from users.
The companies' plan involves using Bluetooth to determine when smartphone users have come into close physical proximity to others who later tested positive for COVID-19.
The contact-tracing function will only operate if the smartphone users have also downloaded certain public health apps.
In April, only 50% of smartphone users surveyed by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland said they would use the new system.
A more recent survey conducted in June revealed that 71% of Americans don't plan to use contact-tracing apps, due to privacy concerns.