By Amber Neely
Wednesday, April 22, 2020, 5:21 a.m. PT (8:21 a.m.ET)
Missouri senator Josh Hawley requests that Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai be held personally responsible for any potential privacy concerns or misuse of the development of the joint Google and Apple contact search technology.
Senator Hawley | Image credit: Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters
Senator Hawley sent a letter to the CEOs of Google and Apple, expressing concern about their COVID-19 cross-platform tracking application. Like many government officials, including President Trump, Hawley is concerned about the ability of companies to sufficiently anonymize user data.
The opening letter reads: “Your recently announced plans to respond to COVID-19 by tracking when and where Americans interact with each other raises serious concerns. Particularly because of Google’s poor privacy record, I’m concerned that your project may lead the way. for something much more terrible. “
He added that he feared that individual users could be identified by crossing the data collected via the contact search application with the data already collected by companies.
Hawley’s main concern is that Google and Apple are creating an extremely precise surveillance method. This program could theoretically be used for harmful purposes and for advertising targeting, after the end of the pandemic.
“Even if this project were to prove useful for the current crisis, how can the Americans be sure that you will not change the interface after the end of the pandemic,” said the letter. ” [A]ny, privacy built into the interface will be useless if the applications developed to access the interface also choose to collect other information, such as real-time geolocation data. “
A majority of his apprehension seems to be placed on Google, which he denounces several times in the letter. He pointed out that Google collected location data from users even when the global setting “Location history” was disabled.
He concluded the letter by demanding that CEOs be held personally accountable for confidentiality concerns.
“Don’t hide behind a corporate shield like so many privacy breachers,” wrote Hawley. “Bet your personal finances on the security of this project. “
The federal government does not have a similar accountability program. The United States government has authorized the theft of personal information from veterans and employees in the past, and no individual or official has ever been held responsible for the theft.
Google and Apple have said that privacy is the project’s biggest concern. They note that the program will remain voluntary and that only public health organizations will be able to create applications built on the platform.
The ACLU, however, stepped forward to voice concerns about the Bluetooth-based contact tracking tool, citing that the move could intrude on user privacy if it even worked.