WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Google from Alphabet (NASDAQ 🙂 Inc is investigating ways to use location information to slow the spread of the corona virus by, for example, determining the effectiveness of social distancing.
Senator Ed Markey, who has long been committed to consumer privacy, urged caution in the government's efforts to work with large technology companies to detect the corona virus.
In a letter to Michael Kratsios, chief technology officer of the White House, Markey cited a Washington Post report in which the government talks with Amazon.com Inc (NASDAQ :), Apple Inc (NASDAQ :), Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ :), Google from Alphabet Inc, IBM (NYSE 🙂 Corp and other technology companies are discussing the potential use of smartphone location data as a research tool in the spread of the virus in the United States.
"We need assurance that collecting and processing this type of information, even if it is aggregated and anonymized, does not pose an individual security and privacy risk," wrote Markey.
He asked the government to describe how the data would be collected, anonymized and stored, who would have access to it, and which companies would be involved in the effort.
"This work would follow our strict privacy protocols and would not involve sharing information about a person's location, movement, or contacts," said a Google representative in a statement.
Facebook said in a statement that there was no agreement to share people's location data with the government.
"In the United States, we informed the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) about the work we are doing with researchers with aggregated, unidentified data cards – which has already been reported – and they have helped us do more" said a Facebook spokesman. "We have not received any requests for location data from the US government."
Apple said in a statement that it is not tracking user locations. It found that it attended White House COVID-19 Task Force meetings, but focused on telehealth and distance learning.
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