Contact-tracing apps are problematic, and that’s before they violate their own privacy policies.
The Care19 app, developed for the North Dakota Department of Health by developer ProudCrowd, was intended to assist health officials in their battle against coronavirus by logging users’ location data. In the process, according to a report released Thursday, it also sent users’ location data to Foursquare.
The findings, published by the makers of the privacy-focused app Jumbo, highlight the risks inherent in contact-tracing apps. When you have software designed to log your location, or your interactions with other people, and then share that data, you run the risk of said data ending up in unintended hands.
“This location data is private to you and is stored securely on ProudCrowd, LLC servers,” reads the policy at the time of this writing. “It will not be shared with anyone including government entities or third parties, unless you consent or ProudCrowd is compelled under federal regulations.”
Foursquare, of course, is a third party.
“[Contact-tracing apps] do present unique privacy concerns,” Jumbo CEO Pierre Valade told Mashable over Twitter direct message. “Absolutely, we need to be vigilant.”
And what does the developer behind Care19, Tim Brookins, have to say about this?
Foursquare, for its part, told the Washington Post that it discards the location data received via Care19 and does not monetize it. Even so, the mere fact that such data was being sent undermines users’ trust in contact-tracing apps and highlights the very real privacy concerns the apps present.
“We hope that these findings will help the health agencies that are currently working on similar apps to make sure privacy is respected,” writes Jumbo CEO Pierre Valade.
We hope so, too. For all our sakes.
As the world looks for every possible edge in its battle against the coronavirus, officials have naturally looked to technology for