Attorney General Becerra Joins Multistate Letter to Google and Apple Expressing Concerns Regarding Proliferation of Unofficial Contact Tracing Apps
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today joined a multistate letter to Google LLC and Apple Inc., expressing privacy concerns regarding the proliferation of contact tracing apps on their platforms. The attorneys general expressed concern that these apps, which are intended to track the spread of COVID-19, do not sufficiently protect consumers’ personal information.
“While our communities continue to address the coronavirus pandemic, we need to make sure Californians can feel their personal information is secure during contact tracing,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Google and Apple must make privacy a top priority as they develop and launch contact tracing innovations. By working together, we can help protect the personal and sensitive health data of millions of consumers during this crisis.”
Contact tracing apps are technological tools designed to help local public health departments identify people who may have been in contact with a COVID-19 infected individual, though the California Department of Public Health does not use these apps. Although digital contact tracing may provide a valuable tool to understand the spread of COVID-19 and assist public health responses, it can also pose a risk to consumers’ personal information. In the letter, the attorneys general call on the companies to protect consumer privacy and closely monitor and regulate third-party apps on their platforms.
In addition to ensuring consumer privacy, the attorneys general urged the companies to ensure that only legitimate public health apps are available for download. Other app developers may take advantage of the pandemic by placing new contact tracing apps on Google or Apple platforms that may sell ads or monetize consumers' data without adequately safeguarding consumers' personal information in compliance with our states' laws.
In the letter, the attorneys general urge Google and Apple to take the following actions on contact tracing apps available to U.S. consumers on Google Play and the App Store:
- Verify that every app labeled or marketed as related to contact tracing is affiliated with a municipal, county, state or federal public health authority, or a hospital or university in the U.S. that is working with such public health authorities;
- Remove any app that cannot be verified consistent with the above;
- Pledge to remove all COVID-19 contact tracing apps once the national emergency ends; and
- Provide written confirmation that the apps have been removed or an explanation as to why the removal of a particular app or apps would impair the public health authorities affiliated with that app.
Today’s letter is the latest of Attorney General Becerra’s ongoing efforts to protect consumers during this pandemic. Last week Attorney General Becerra released a consumer alert on contact tracing scams related to the COVID-19 State of Emergency. In March, Attorney General Becerra issued a consumer alert warning about deceptive advertising and scams related to COVID-19. More information on the California Department of Justice’s efforts to protect the public during COVID-19 is available on the Attorney General’s website at https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/COVID-19.
A copy of the letter can be found here.