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Why Apple and Google Has Banned Use of Location Tracking in Contact Tracing Apps

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Recently, Apple and Google said that they would ban the use of location tracking in apps. Read on to know more about it…

In new contact tracing apps built to combat the coronavirus, Apple and Google-parent Alphabet will ban the use of location-tracking GPS software that could compromise privacy. Contact tracing is the practice of tracking people infected with the virus and then mapping out where they’d been since presumably becoming infected. That way, people with whom the infected party had been in contact could be warned. Rather than use the GPS tracking program, Apple and Google’s software plans to utilize Bluetooth signals to track encounters.

Recently, Apple and Google said that they would ban the use of location tracking in apps that use a new contact tracing system the two are building to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Last month, Apple and Google, whose operating systems power 99% of smart phones, said that they would work together to create a system for notifying people who have been near others who have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Both Apple and Google plan to allow only public health authorities to use the technology.

The refusal to use GPS software has become a point of contention for authorities, though, as that software would be faster for public health officials to track the virus. Without it, they’ll have to utilize what they’ve said are unstable and power-draining alternatives. Bluetooth capabilities often turn off on both iPhones and Android devices in order to automatically save power, and users have to remember to manually reactivate them.

Privacy Concerns
The collection of location data comes with a warning from privacy experts, who say that accumulating that data could lead to breaches or exposed data later on that compromise peoples’ security. Apple and Google said that privacy and preventing governments from using the system to compile data on citizens was a primary goal. The system uses Bluetooth signals from phones to detect encounters and does not use or store GPS location data. But the developers of official coronavirus-related apps in several U.S. states told Reuters last month it was vital they be allowed to use GPS location data in conjunction with the new contact tracing system to track how outbreaks move and identify hotspots.

The Apple-Google decision to not allow GPS data collection with their contact tracing system will require public health authorities that want to access GPS location to rely on what Apple and Google have described as unstable, battery-draining workarounds.

Alternatives likely would miss some encounters because iPhones and Android devices turn off Bluetooth connections after some time for battery-saving and other reasons unless users remember to re-activate them. But some apps said they planned to stick to their own approaches.

Privacy experts have warned that any cache of location data related to health issues could make businesses and individuals vulnerable to being ostracized if the data is exposed. Recently, Apple and Google said that they will allow only one app per country to use the contact system, to avoid fragmentation and encourage wider adoption. The companies said they would, however, support countries that opt for a state or regional approach, and that U.S. states will be allowed to use the system.

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