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What are the data privacy concerns from contact tracing? (Includes interview)

In considering the privacy impact of COVID-19 tracing apps, Lux Research Associate Danielle Bradnan tells Digital Journal that these developments represent a “watershed moment for data access”.

A number of technology firms, supported by governments, are developing contact tracing apps. Most of these apps attempt to keeps a trace of others who have been in close contact through Bluetooth signals that transmit an anonymous identifier. The underlying concept is test, track and trace. This means testing people for coronavirus, tracking the spread of the virus, then tracing the people an infected person has come into contact with.

There are differences in relation to how data is stored with different apps. Two general architectures have been proposed for a contact tracing app: centralised and decentralised. Focusing specifically on Apple and Google’s partnership on a COVID-19 contact tracing app, Bradnan weighs in on the specific data control issues.

Bradnan says: “Under the guise of a (me-too) contact tracing app for COVID-19, this partnership will change the consumer relationship with personal healthcare data.”

Furthermore, she notes: “The first proposed application programming interface (API) rollout will allow both tech giants to access electronic health records (EHRs) that were previously siloed via partnerships, giving them access to an enormous volume of development data.”

This represents the first phase; with the second, Baradnan notes: “The second rollout, the tracing app itself, will set a precedent for individuals to use their data to achieve a meaningful personal goal – ultimately planting a flag on the idea that healthcare data belongs to the consumer.”

As to what this means for future years and the impact on consumer data, Bradnan concludes: “This partnership is a watershed moment for data access and will set a precedent for determining what privacy and healthcare data ownership means in the modern digital health landscape.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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