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Users’ COVID-19 data safe, Apple tells US Senators

San Francisco, April 14 (IANS) Apple has responded to a group of US Senators including Kamala Harris who raised concerned about data privacy policies of the company's COVID-19 screening website and app.

US Senators Bob Menendez, Harris, Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook last week, expressing concern over how confidential health data is handled in Apple's coronavirus tools.

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Timothy Powderly, Apple's senior director of government affairs, said in a reply that the tech giant doesn't collect any information other than non-personally identifiable app usage and crash data.

“Consistent with Apple's strong dedication to user privacy, the COVID-19 app and website were built to protect the privacy and security of users' data. As you note, use of the tools do not require a sign-in or association with a user's Apple ID, and users' individual responses are not sent to Apple or any government organization,' explained Powderly.

Apple said that access to important information and guidance regarding individual health or the health of a loved one should not require individuals to compromise their privacy rights.

“Rather, it is in times like these, that our commitment to protecting those rights is most important. Our COVID-19 app and website were designed with that in mind. We appreciate the opportunity to provide the Senators with more information about the COVID-19 app and website,” the Apple executive stressed.

Apple last week launched a COVID-19 website and app with a screening tool and other information about the new coronavirus pandemic.

The company, along with Google, is launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing.

With respect to the Apple COVID-19 app and website, Apple has entered into an agreement with HHS (through the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health and the CDC for the development of computer-based tools providing COVID-19 information to American citizens.

The agreement contains the following strong privacy terms: Processing Data from COVID-19 Triage Tools; to the extent certain analytics and other information regarding usage of the COVID-19 Triage; tools (whether website or app based) will be collected, used, disclosed, or processed, each of the following terms and conditions will apply:

“Any data transfer will be subject to a user's express consent, which consent must describe to users the types of information to be collected and how that information may be used and disclosed,” said Apple.

The iPhone maker said it does not currently collect any information entered into the website and app by individuals.

“We apply the principle of data minimization to all of its consumer products and services, and our COVID-19 resources are no exception. Guided by this principle, Apple currently collects only the information necessary to support the operation of the COVID-19 website and app, such as users' usage of the tool and app; this information does not include information entered by individuals,” explained Powderly in the letter.

Apple has also booked a domain name called AppleCoronavirus.com, after the iPhone maker and Google announced a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the new coronavirus.

–IANS

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