Survey: Half of U.S. Broadband Households Would Share Data With Contact Tracers

July 27, 2020
Even more would be willing as long as efficient privacy protections are in place

More than half (52 percent) of U.S. broadband households say they are willing to share smartphone data to aid in COVID-19 contact tracing, while another 20 percent could be convinced provided privacy protections are in place, according to a recent survey.

Parks Associates' new research, COVID-19: Impact on Telehealth Use and Perspectives, specifically tracked changes in consumer attitudes and adoption of telehealth services as a result of COVID-19, and measures future interest in telehealth services beyond the pandemic.

The research also found that those who experienced COVID-19 symptoms are more willing to share smartphone data to aid in contact tracing than those who have not experienced symptoms. Still, nearly half of those who have not experienced symptoms are willing to share their smartphone data.

Contact tracing—identifying individuals who may have come into contact with an infected person and then collecting data on these contacts—has helped stop previous deadly outbreaks, but the current COVID-19 virus presents a far greater challenge given that there’s been millions of confirmed cases in the U.S. already. Nonetheless, over the last few months, public health officials have ramped-up efforts to monitor and contain new cases through this surveillance-based approach.

"Apple and Google have together developed an API and framework that developers, in partnership with public health officials and other stakeholders, can use to build contact-tracing apps," Kristen Hanich, senior analyst, Parks Associates, noted. "The industry can drive widespread uptake of these solutions by emphasizing the public benefits of this data sharing while also stressing the privacy protections in place for anyone who participates."

Indeed, in April, Google and Apple made big news when they announced a joint effort around contact tracing that will leverage Bluetooth technology that includes application programming interfaces (APIs), as leaders from the tech companies opted to go with a de-centralized, opt-in approach.

David Feinberg, M.D., vice president at Google Health, stated earlier this month that multiple U.S. states and 11 countries, including Italy and Germany, are currently working with the two tech giants to develop mobile phone apps to facilitate contact tracing, according to Fortune. At the same time, however, significant concerns have been raised regarding the effectiveness of digital contact tracing efforts if Apple and Google refuse to allow the collection of location data. So far, Apple and Google have refused, arguing that letting the apps collect location data or loosening other smartphone rules would undermine people’s privacy, according to a May Washington Post report.

Nonetheless, privacy advocates do attest that digital contact tracing often comes with major privacy concerns. For example, a recent analysis from mobile app security company Guardsquare found that 17 contact tracing apps, each from a different country, shows that the vast majority of contact tracing apps built and deployed by governments are not sufficiently secured.

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