Technology Senators raise privacy questions about Google's COVID-19 tracker
Google's new terms of service will (hopefully) be easier to read
Terms of service still tend to read like legal alphabet soup, but Google thinks it can do better. It's notifying users of a TOS change on March 31st that, among other things, should remove some of the mystery. The internet giant said its new terms are still written in legalese, but that the company has "done [its] best" to make them easier to grasp, including definitions and links. Google is promising better overall communication, too, clarifying just when it will change services or limit access. It aims to send more notifications if changes affect service. The new terms also cover Chrome, Chrome OS and Google Drive.
Two US senators want to make sure that Google's COVID-19 tracker is not infringing on millions of people's personal data. In a letter sent to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Tuesday, senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal raised questions about how the tech giant's tracker is ensuring that the location data it's collecting and presenting would maintain privacy.
The Trump administration has called on tech companies to provide data for tracking the coronavirus pandemic, hoping that logs of people's location can give insight on social distancing and the disease's spread. Location data has been used in South Korea and China to help contain and track COVID-19 cases, and the US government is looking to do the same as it deals with the pandemic.
Apple, Samsung, Google get letter from lawmakers to protect data from period tracker apps
Lawmakers are asking Apple, Google and Samsung to remove period tracker apps that share user health data without their consent from their app stores.Democratic lawmakers from New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, U.S. Rep. Bonnie Coleman and U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill sent letters on Tuesday to tech conglomerate Apple, Google and Samsung requesting the major app providers halt allowing period tracking apps to share users' health data with third parties when they begin to use these apps. The letters were addressed to top executives of each tech company's app store platforms.
Last Friday, Google announcedit's collected from its millions of users to help health officials make policy decisions and measure social distancing effects.
The data is collected from people who have their Location History setting activated on their phones, which is typically off by default. In its announcement, the tech giant said that no personally identifiable information was collected for this tracker.
Still, Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, have their concerns with Google using a massive amount of location data for tracking the outbreak.
Senators press Google Verily again on data privacy of coronavirus website
The Democratic lawmakers have concerns about HIPAA compliance and data retention.The website, which launched two weeks ago, gives people take online screener surveys to see if they should go to testing stations for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. The tool, which is right now only open to people in four California counties, is hosted through Verily's Project Baseline, an initiative to advance clinical research.
The two lawmakers raised points about how researchers have easily de-anonymized location data several times, since the datasets are often tied to frequently visited spots like homes, workplaces and places of worship.
"Location data sharing carries with it myriad risks, and while we commend Google's efforts to assist in combatting the coronavirus pandemic, we caution you against steps that risk undermining your users' privacy," the senators wrote in the letter.
The senators asked Pichai if Google plans on sharing any personal data or information that is not completely anonymized, and if it's gathering data for this tracker through measures outside of the Location History tool.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The letter is also questioning the effectiveness of Google's tracker, asking how it would account for, as well as non-Google device users.
The lawmakers also want to know how public health officials are supposed to interpret this data, and how Google is receiving feedback from public health officials.
Markey and Blumenthal are expecting answers from Google by April 14, according to the letter.
Apple and Google's COVID-19 contact tracing tech is ready .
Today, Apple and Google are releasing their COVID-19 contact tracing technology to public health agencies (PHAs) around the world. So far, 22 countries on five continents have requested the API, which will allow PHAs to develop their own contact tracing apps. Apple and Google have been collaborating on the Exposure Notifications System API for several weeks. As planned, the API will use Bluetooth to exchange keys between phones. If a user tests positive for COVID-19, they can inform their contact tracing app, which will use the API to send exposure notifications to people they may have come in contact with.