Tracing apps raise questions: Know of COVID-19 exposure or risk your privacy?

(Source: WRDW)
(Source: WRDW)(WRDW)
Published: May. 26, 2020 at 9:54 PM EDT
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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- It could help stop the spread of COVID-19, but is it worth the cost of risking your privacy? In an overwhelming response, News 12 viewers said no.

Big tech companies and health experts are working to make contract tracing accessible to everyone. And South Carolina is one of the first states to express interest.

Research shows contact tracing could lower the risk for over half of the population, but not everyone is on board.

"Too big brother for me," one commenter said.

"We have a big question here to answer as a nation."


Steven Weldon is the director of the Cyber Institute at Augusta University. In the cyber capital of the world, he says all eyes are on this decision.

"Who have you been around, who have you talked to, interacted with, who have you been within six-feet of?" Weldon asked.

Digital tracking apps would allow companies to track you by GPS or Bluetooth and alert you if someone you came in contact with tested positive for COVID-19.

Apps rolled out in Singapore, Israel, and even by a national tracking system in Australia. Google and Apple have also announced plans to make their own, calling it an exposure notification system. In the U.S., that brings up privacy concerns.

"Do I need to opt-in it or do I have to opt-out? Do I as a citizen have a say-so in this? And then if my data is connected how long will it be retained?" Weldon said.

Dr. Nisha Panwar, a researcher at Augusta University, created a coronavirus tracking system with a team at UCI for places like businesses, universities, or hospitals as well -- but it doesn't track your phone.

It uses what's called collection logs: data that has already being collected when you join a Wi-Fi server and alerts you based on your computer's IP address.

"Hey, listen you have been in contact with someone who was carrying the virus because you were in the same lounge area or same university campus," she said.

And for some, it's worth it to stop the spread. But for others, nothing is worth the price of privacy.

There are currently two bills introduced to Congress focused on privacy safeguards.

The system with AU and UCI is live but isn't in place anywhere yet. And as for Google and Apple's exposure notification system, it's not an app, but would work with apps released by public health officials.

The tech giants say they'll disable the service after the pandemic and you only have to do it if you choose to.

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