Privacy groups are calling on California lawmakers to take steps prohibiting private companies from using contact-tracing data for other purposes, including ad targeting.
“Californians have a constitutional right to privacy, and it is vital that the state protect that right even in this time of unprecedented crisis,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ACLU of California, Consumer Reports and other watchdogs say in a letter to governor Gavin Newsom and members of the state assembly and senate.
Among other proposals, the groups say contact-tracing contracts between the state and private companies should include provisions banning the use of contact-tracing data for any commercial purpose, including ad targeting.
The advocates say new privacy rules will boost contact-tracing programs, arguing that “more Californians will feel safe participating in them knowing the information they provide to help fight the pandemic won’t be used to deport them or build data-rich profiles for data brokers and advertisers.”
Surveys conducted this year have shown widespread skepticism of contact-tracing apps. In one highly publicized example, security company Avira reported in June that 71% of Americans say they won't use COVID-19 contact-tracing apps.
Like many other states, California is attempting to curb the spread of COVID-19 by tracing the contacts of people who are infected with the virus. California's program currently involves reaching out to people via telephone, text and email.
In addition to the ban on using data for advertising, the advocacy groups say private companies that participate in the current program -- or future efforts -- should be prohibited from collecting more information than necessary for public health purposes. The organizations also say the data should be discarded within 30 days.
“As the state continues to respond to the ongoing pandemic, partner with companies, and invest state funds in contact tracing programs to track the virus, we urge you to ensure all new pandemic responses include these crucial privacy protections from the beginning and existing efforts have these privacy protections added in immediately and retroactively,” the groups write.