Cybersecurity, tech experts weigh in on tracking phone data for COVID-19 exposures

Cybersecurity, tech experts weigh in on tracking phone data for COVID-19 exposures
The Medical University of South Carolina is in the process of developing a voluntary app that uses new Apple and Google software on phones to track and alert for potential COVID-19 exposure. (Source: Live 5 News)

CHARLESTON S.C. (WCSC) - The Medical University of South Carolina is in the process of developing a voluntary app that uses new Apple and Google software on phones to track and alert for potential COVID-19 exposure.

Android and iPhone users may have noticed a new feature added in recent updates called “COVID-19 Exposure Logging.”

Android users can find it under “Google” in settings. On iPhone, it’s under “Settings,” then “Privacy” and under that, go to the “Health” section.

“The purpose of the service is to allow your device to use your Bluetooth to track your proximity to individuals who have reported in government issued applications that they are COVID-19 positive,” said Earl Smith Jr., Network systems professor at Trident Technical College. “That will allow you to get the time, location and for how long you were exposed to someone who has acknowledge that they have COVID.”

Only a handful of state health agencies have developed apps to use the feature.

The app which MUSC is working on would have to be reviewed by the Department of Health and Environmental Control before being used on a mass scale.

“I think it is a smart idea,” Charleston resident Ava Green said. “But for some people that wouldn’t want it, it might be a little weird to getting that and being tracked.”

Lancie Affonso, the director of the data science program and cyber security professor at the College of Charleston, said any data collection poses risks and that voluntary use of such an app would be necessary.

“On the one hand, data will help us maybe, flatten the curve in notifying individuals so they don’t go out and spread the virus,” Affonso said. “But on the flip side, because there hasn’t been any precedent we haven’t had time as software engineers to walk through the process and as data scientists to study the algorithms we’re using.”

Smith also said he is cautious of the new technology, but not completely opposed if created with patient privacy at top of mind.

“I enjoy the fact that we can find new ways to use technology to further advance society. To further protect us from a pandemic,” Smith said. “But, at the same time, I just want to be very cautious that we’re doing it as safely as possible.”

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