U.S. seeks smartphone location data in COVID-19 fight – WAND

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(WAND) – The U.S. government seeks to use smartphone location data from tech giants in order to get ahead of the COVID-19 virus. 

NBC News reports the White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were involved in a phone call with representatives from Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Cisco. Health officials said anonymous, aggregated user data would be used to track the spread of the virus in a practice known as “syndromic surveillance”. 

Officials could use the data to see if people are practicing social distancing, as has been recommended by national health leaders. Some sources told NBC News the government would not gain access to the locations of specific, individual people, and added that users would be required to opt-in.

The Washington Post first reported this effort, which one tech company representative told NBC News government officials are “very serious” about making happen.

Tech giants have commitments to user privacy and would have to weigh their policies with the need to get COVID-19 under control in the United States. COVID-19 has claimed thousands of human lives across the world and caused problems with the global economy. 

China, South Korea and Israel are using similar and more aggressive surveillance practices in response to the virus, causing alarm among privacy advocates who have concerns about the government use of user data.

Other sources told NBC News they’re concerned access to anonymized location data today could mean erosion of the individual privacy in the future, especially if the government later asks for data that is not anonymous.

Spokespeople for the tech companies listed in the article declined to comment when NBC News reached out. 

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