The current COVID-19 pandemic has swept the world, forcing governments to enforce curfews, limitations, and restrictions on what citizens can do, where they can go, and for how long they can be out.
In the meantime, scientists and health professionals have been scrambling for a cure, a vaccine, anything. Until they develop a cure, however, they have to make sure people aren’t spreading the virus. One way to do so is by using a contact-tracing app.
Surge of Contact Tracing Apps
A contact tracing app is an application medical professionals use whenever a patient receives confirmation they have COVID-19. With the app, a professional is able to track where the infected person has been and where they may have spread COVID-19 to. This process helps keep the general population safe and healthy.
Once the affected cluster of people whom the patient may have been in contact with are identified, they’re asked to either undergo testing or self-isolate for 14 days as an extra precaution to prevent further spreading.
Contact tracing apps simplify this search process a ton by allowing governments and medical professionals to triangulate the patient’s movements throughout the past few weeks. Singapore has been using contact tracing apps such as TraceTogether, in addition to a recently released contact tracing wearable.
This brings to light a key issue with these apps:
Dangers of Contact Tracing Apps
Concerns over contact tracing apps and the breach of privacy caused by the use of it have grown considerably over the past couple of months. Remember the contact tracing wearable I mentioned above? Many citizens have expressed outrage over the breach of privacy.
Contact tracing apps threaten users’ privacy. Since these apps use Bluetooth to track your movements, your location is always known.
The loss of privacy is so serious, in fact, that many public health officials in the United States have barred these contact tracing apps from being rolled out in certain areas due to their concerns.
Found8 Malaysia member - MWKA Technologies, a strategic research consultancy, provided their views on how these contact tracing apps can pose danger with concerns over data-sharing and more.
“No doubt in this day and age, using data for healthcare and to assist in contact tracing to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is wise.
However, there are many aspects to consider while collecting data through using contact tracing apps. Not only is clear and concise communication necessary, technology companies, governments and health authorities should be transparent with how data is processed in order to address societies’ concerns about breaches of privacy and fundamental human rights.
In Malaysia, the MySejahtera app is the official contact tracing app owned and operated by the Government of Malaysia, administered by MOH and assisted by NSC and MAMPU. To prevent any clamour, they had assured citizens and users that “personal information will only be used for the purpose of managing and mitigating COVID-19 outbreak. It will not be shared to any other party”.
Can data collection be designed with technology that respects human rights? Can permissions requested in applications be limited to a need-to-know basis and revoked within a set number of days? These questions have yet to be answered and might only be found in hindsight in the years to come.” - Mei Lum, Principal Consultant of MWKA Technologies
Growing Anxieties Over Contact Tracing Apps
But what can we do? These contact tracing apps help us track down people who may have been infected with COVID-19, and finding and quarantining these people is vital to stopping this pandemic.
A recent ExpressVPN survey on contact tracing apps reveals that, while 77% of those surveyed believe the use of such apps will further the rise of mass surveillance, 59% believe that using contact tracing apps is necessary and that they’re willing to forgo their rights to privacy if it means doing their part to put an end to this pandemic.
People are anxious, asking themselves questions regarding how far they should let the government go. Should they risk the government gathering all this data on them? Will the widespread use of contact tracing put into place a foundation for mass surveillance?
Found8 Singapore member, Regit - a data protection service provider, offers their view on the concerns over contact tracing apps.
“Should privacy be a concern when you can save a life? Contact tracing has become a vital part in minimising the spread of COVID-19. As a privacy advocate, I can see why people have their warning sirens ringing but given the situation, we must balance between the risks to individuals and the risks to the community.
Should we be revolting? I believe a healthier approach is to continue to raise awareness and have constructive discussions around privacy and personal data and not loosen our rights under the guise of the greater good.” - Cindy Nguyen, CEO and Co-Founder of Regit, DPTM Certified
The COVID-19 pandemic has done more than making people aware of ways to stay safe and healthy during times of pandemic—it’s shown how valuable our data is to health officials.
While contact tracing apps offer ways to limit the spread of COVID-19, we must be educated and understand the risks involved with using them.
Jack is an accomplished cybersecurity expert with years of experience under his belt at TechWarn, a trusted digital agency to world-class cybersecurity companies. A passionate digital safety advocate himself, Jack frequently contributes to tech blogs and digital media sharing expert insights on cybersecurity and privacy tools.