TOPEKA – (June 16, 2020) – Major technology companies must take responsibility for the rapid proliferation of apps that claim to help contain the spread of COVID-19 through ‘contact tracing’ but that in fact may put consumers’ personal information at risk, Attorney General Derek Schmidt has told Google and Apple.
In a letter sent today to the companies’ Chief Executive Officers, Schmidt joined with 36 other state and territory attorneys general asking them to take responsibility for policing the growing number of ‘contact tracing’ and related notification apps available for download through their platforms.
“[These unregulated apps pose] a risk to consumers’ personally identifiable information, including sensitive health information, that could continue long after the present public health emergency ends,” the attorneys general wrote. “[S]everal COVID-19 related contact tracing apps are already available on Google Play and the App Store. Some of those apps may endanger consumers’ personal information. We are particularly concerned about purportedly ‘free’ apps that utilize GPS tracking, contain advertisements and/or in-app purchases, and are not affiliated with any public health authority or legitimate research institution.”
The attorneys general specifically ask Google and Apple to:
- Verify that every app labeled or marketed as related to contact tracing, COVID-19 contact tracing, or coronavirus contact tracing or exposure notification is affiliated with a municipal, county, state or federal public health authority, or a hospital or university in the U.S. that is working with such public health authorities;
- Remove any app that cannot be verified as affiliated with one of the entities identified above; and
- Pledge to remove all COVID-19-related exposure notification and contact tracing apps, including those that utilize the new exposure notification application program interfaces (APIs) developed by Google and Apple, from Google Play and the App Store once the COVID-19 national emergency ends. In addition, the attorneys general asked Google and Apple to provide written confirmation to their offices once the apps have been removed or an explanation why removal of a particular app or apps would impair the public health authorities affiliated with each app.
With enactment earlier this month of the COVID-19 Contact Tracing Privacy Act, legislation recommended by Schmidt, Kansas became a leader among the states in protecting citizens’ privacy and civil liberties by tightly regulating contact tracing during the current pandemic. One new provision of Kansas law prohibits state and local governments from using contact tracing apps and similar means of electronic tracking citizens’ movements and associations. Thus, no contact tracing app currently available for download to cellphones is lawfully affiliated with any government health authority in Kansas.
“Implementing these limited measures could help protect the personally identifiable information and sensitive health data of millions of consumers during this crisis,” the attorneys general wrote to the companied.