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Apple's coronavirus screening app comes under fire over privacy concerns

US senators ask whether COVID-19 tool is HIPAA-compliant

US Senators sent a signed letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook questioning the privacy and security of user data for the company's COVID-19 screening app and website.

The letter inquired about the security and privacy policies in place for the screening app and its corresponding website, and whether or not those policies are HIPAA-compliant.

In the letter, senators Bob Menendez, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal requested Apple expand on the details of its agreements with government agencies, instead of reaching out to the CDC, White House Coronavirus Task Force or Federal Emergency Management Agency. Each of these agencies partnered with Apple to create the COVID-19 screening app and website.

It is worth noting that Apple clearly stated in a recent press release and on the COVID-19 screening app and website that the tools capture no personally identifiable data. Not only are responses from the screening tool not sent to Apple or the government, but the tools also are not linked to the user's unique Apple ID. 

According to Apple: “The COVID-19 app and website allow users to answer a series of questions around risk factors, recent exposure, and symptoms for themselves or a loved one.

"In turn, they will receive CDC recommendations on next steps, including guidance on social distancing and self-isolating, how to closely monitor symptoms, whether or not a test is recommended at this time, and when to contact a medical provider.”

It remains to be seen if Google will soon receive a similarly-worded letter for its COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports that provide health officials insights on gatherings and movements. Though the tool claims to anonymize user data, there’s no knowing who the senators will want to question next.

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