Google has claimed that its Chinese virus contact tracing technology would not track users’ locations, but in order for the tech to work on Google’s Android smartphones, users must turn on the devices’ location tracking enabling Google to track them.
The New York Times reports that when Google and Apple announced its plans to release a free Wuhan coronavirus contact tracing system to help alert people of possible exposure to the virus, the companies promised that the system would be “privacy preserving” and would not track users. Countries such as Germany, Switzerland, and many others used the companies’ code in their national virus alert apps which have been downloaded more than 20 million times.
But now it has been revealed that in order for the apps to work on smartphones running Google’s Android operating system, users must turn on the devices’ location settings enabling GPS which could allow Google to track users’ locations.
Many government officials have reportedly been surprised that Google may be able to track users’ locations via the contact tracing technology. Cecilie Lumbye Thorup, a spokeswoman for Denmark’s Health Ministry, said that after discovering that Google may be able to determine users’ location, her agency intended to “start a dialogue with Google about how they in general use location data.”
Switzerland said that it has pushed Google for weeks to alter the location setting requirement in the system. Dr. Sang-Il Kim, the department head for digital transformation at Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health, commented: “Users should be able to use such proximity tracing apps without any bindings with other services.”
Elina Dimina, head of the infectious-disease surveillance unit at Latvia’s Center for Disease Prevention and Control, stated that it had pressed Google on the issue as the country develops its own virus tracing app. “We don’t like that the GPS must be on,” said Dimina.
Pete Voss, a Google spokesperson, stated that the virus alert apps that use the company’s software do not use device location but use Bluetooth scanning signals to detect smartphones that come into close contact with one another without needing to know the devices’ location at all. Voss stated that since 2015 Google’s Android operating system has required users to enable location on their phones to scan for nearby Bluetooth devices.
Many have noted that location data on Apple’s iPhones is not required to be enabled in order to use the contact tracing system. Government virus apps are also banned from collecting user location data when using the contact tracing system, but Google is still capable of determining and using the device locations of Android users of the system. Alexandra Dmitrienko, a professor of secure software systems at the University of Würzburg in Germany, commented: “We are giving too much control to two big companies. They are monopolizing it.”
Read more at the New York Times here.
Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address firstname.lastname@example.org