Despite Apple’s efforts to support privacy, app developers, Internet service providers and U.S. federal government agencies still have a variety of ways to access iPhone location data, and technology companies and the U.S. government are discussing whether the data could be used for public health purposes, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Specifically, the U.S. government is discussing with Google and Facebook the use of location data to track and map the spread of the epidemic, the report said. For example, anonymous aggregated location data can be used to help experts understand people’s movement patterns and predict potential virus hotspots.
The idea was apparently floated at a private meeting at the White House on Sunday, when a task force of technology executives and investors came up with a series of ideas for disease maps and telemedicine. But the idea may not be popular with Americans, who have been cautious about the way they are tracked by technology companies, even before. But sources stressed that the data would not be used to create government databases, the Washington Post reported.
In the past, technology companies such as Facebook have provided researchers with similar anonymous data for statistical use. And this week, a coalition of medical professionals, disease experts and technology executives issued an open letter urging technology companies to do their part in the fight against the new virus.
The new coronavirus pandemic has facilitated close cooperation between technology companies and government agencies. Businesses are working together to combat the spread of false information, and President Trump on Friday praised google for developing a website that could help guide users through new virus detection.
Privacy advocates warn that a balance needs to be struck between civil liberties and responding to the epidemic. The New York Times reported Monday that the Israeli government had tapped a secret database of cell phone data used to fight terrorism to track people infected with the virus.