The new Covid-19 contact tracing app for Northern Ireland, Gibraltar and the Rep of Ireland (it was developed in Ireland) has been a major success on many levels. However, questions remain about data privacy.
Some privacy experts believe that the Health Service Executive (HSE), should have declared that Google is a data controller for the app, due to the data collected by the Google Android system for phones such as the Samsung Galaxy.
Researchers at Trinity College Dublin raised concerns about the data collected by the Android system using a piece of software that runs in the background on users’ phones, known as Google Play Services.
Although the research was conducted with the COVID Tracker Ireland app in mind, the issue is not down to the HSE COVID-19 contact tracing app, but rather how Google Play Services functions.
The software connects apps to other Google services, such as Google Maps or Google Sign In. It cannot be uninstalled, but it can be disabled, it would also mean core elements of the operating system would not work. That includes the exposure notification system on which the COVID Tracker Ireland app needs.
The Department of Health, Google have yet to persuade people that their data privacy is being respected
However, it is said that Google does not have access to data within the app, including whether or not the log of Bluetooth identifiers has been uploaded to the HSE servers following a positive coronavirus test, nor does the app have access to the data gathered by Google Play Services.
Google clarified that it does not receive information about the end-user, location data, or information about any other devices the user has been in contact with.
Responding to the Trinity research, the HSE said it welcomed any research that helped it improve the app, noting that privacy had been at the forefront throughout the rapid development of the app. Questions remain and, with a vaccine or medicine for the virus still some distance off, the HSE, Google and others have work to do to reassure users that their data privacy is both respected and protected.
A user downloads the app and is prompted to turn on their Bluetooth.
Once the phone and its Bluetooth are turned on it registers close contacts on the user by exchanging anonymous codes with other users' phones.
The app defines close contact as anyone within two metres for 15 minutes or more.
Essentially it keeps track of what phones your phone comes into contact with and therefore what people you come into contact with.
This means if you test positive for coronavirus your close contacts have been recorded and are easily contactable through the app.
According to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, close contacts with the app can be traced and contacted within hours.
If you do test positive you will be able to choose if you want to anonymously alert the app users you have come into close contact with.
And if you become concerned at any time you can:
Any data that the app collects is stored only on your phone. No one can access it unless you choose to share it.
Any data you do share can help health professionals know more about the virus and help stop it from spreading.
We don't sell our data to anyone
Finally is it safe, which is a great question but why are we even asking? We gave up our most personal details from our phones years ago, social media, Big data have been feasting themselves on our data and selling it to everyone. The public wanted the internet for free and did not object to Google and others selling everything about us, our health, children's details, parents' details, read our emails, lifting every picture on our phones.
Our first answer this perfectly demonstrates the need for VPN on Phones everywhere in terms of limiting access to Big Data (Facebook, Google, IBM, Apple, Alibaba, Snapchat) to our data. It also shows in the week when the US threatens to follow India in banning TikTok from the US that Data is more valuable than oil.
The point is, this App is using nothing we didn't give up years ago. Download this App in good conscious, it's for your good and there's very little if anything Google will learn about you