March 19, 2020 / 4:11 PM / 22 days ago

U.S. lawmaker urges caution in using location data to track COVID-19

WASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters) - Senator Ed Markey, who has long had an interest in consumer privacy, on Thursday urged caution in the government’s efforts to partner with big tech companies to track the coronavirus as a way to combat the disease.

In a letter to Michael Kratsios, the White House’s chief technology officer, Markey cited a Washington Post report that said the government had discussions with Amazon, Apple , Facebook, Google, IBM and other tech companies to discuss potentially using smartphone location data as part of “modeling efforts” as the virus spreads in the United States.

“We need assurances that collection and processing of these types of information, even if aggregated and anonymized, do not pose safety and privacy risks to individuals,” Markey wrote.

He asked the government to describe how the data would be collected, anonymized and stored, who would have access to it and which companies were involved in the effort.

Facebook said in a statement that there was no agreement to share location data of individuals with the government.

“In the U.S., we briefed the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) on the work we do with aggregate, de-identified data maps with researchers — which has been previously reported — and they were supportive of our doing more of it,” a Facebook spokesman said. “We have not received requests for location data from the U.S. government.”

Apple said in a statement that it does not track user locations. It noted that it has participated in White House COVID-19 task force meetings but is focused on telehealth and distance learning. (Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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