Consumers concerned about the resurgence of new COVID-19 cases spurred by increased social mobility since business owners began reopening should beware of contact tracing applications developed for cell phones and computers.
A coalition of 39 state attorneys general cautioned consumers against downloading those apps and asked top executives at Apple and Google to take steps to protect the public from developers who might use them to harvest personal information. The two technology companies have guidelines to protect consumers, but there have been reports about such apps being used to collect personally identifiable information and sensitive health information.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, who is among the 39 signatories of a letter delivered to the executives, cited reports about third-party developers "flying under the radar and accessing this information from people before the rogue applications are removed" from the App Store and Google Play. Hunter and his colleagues asked that Apple and Google verify that every app labeled or marketed for contact tracing be affiliated with a public health or government entity.
The state attorneys general also requested the companies remove all unverified apps from platforms that make them available to consumers. They further asked that all notification and contact tracing apps related to COVID-19 be removed from the App Store and Google Play once the national emergency ends.
While federal legislation has been proposed to address privacy concerns, there are no standards in place. That lack of standards compromises consumers, whose legitimate concerns about what has become the greatest public health crisis in more than a century put them at a disadvantage.
Those who are looking to cheat people out of something valuable often use fear to manipulate their victims. It's not hard to imagine how easy it might be for these fly-by-night, third-party developers to convince those worried about the pandemic to download a free app that mines cell phones, tablets and computers for private data.
Kudos to Hunter and the other 38 attorneys general who took steps to protect consumers. We urge the leaders of these tech companies to step up and do the same for those who keep them in business.