New app designed to track COVID-19 raises privacy concerns

Healthy Together helps Utahns track their symptoms, find testing locations and know if they came in contact with someone infected with COVID-19. (Healthy Together)

See also: Health confidentiality in a pandemic: Does the public deserve to know?

The new app Healthy Together helps Utahns track their symptoms and alerts them of potential contact with someone with COVID-19. However, some residents voiced concern about the privacy of their data and the app’s ability to track people.

According to a press release from Gov. Gary Herbert, Healthy Together is designed in conjunction with the social media app Twenty, complies with the state’s data security and encryption laws and requirements and allows users to delete their location data at any time. Location data will be automatically deleted after 30 days.

“We worked closely with the state of Utah to develop an app that could effectively meet the guidelines set by their team to trace and combat this disease,” Twenty representative Meredith Kelly said. “Our goal throughout was to balance the necessity of collecting the user data necessary to aid public health, with the fullest possible respect and protection of every individual’s information.”

Both Twenty and state representatives have emphasized that using the app is completely voluntary. Users can download the app at any time and delete it whenever they want; however, the more people who use the app, the more effective it will be at tracking and preventing the spread of COVID-19.

As of April 30, there were around 36,600 active users of the app, which is just over 1% of Utah’s population.

“The more Utahns choose to use this application, the more clearly our public health teams will be able to see exactly where and whom the virus is infecting,” Gov. Herbert said in the press release. “In time, this will allow us to address outbreaks with a focused approach instead of widespread stay-at-home directives.”

BYU information systems professor Jeff Jenkins said while there are many apps that track people’s location to provide information about nearby stores and restaurants, an app used by the government might especially worry users.

“In some cases, people are more concerned about the government having access to that same information because the government has a greater power to take action,” Jenkins said. “This worry is exacerbated if you are not fully aware of how they will use the information.”

Jenkins said he feels like the app gives users a reasonable amount of control over their data, even if it’s not totally clear how the data will be used. “With any app, there is a tradeoff between the intended benefit — in this case, combating COVID-19 — and privacy.”

See also: Health confidentiality in a pandemic: Does the public deserve to know?

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