Guest Post: Surfshark Discusses Research About The Most Privacy-Invasive COVID-19 Apps

With the COVID-19 wreaking havoc worldwide, the last thing people think about is their digital privacy. Unfortunately, in some countries, measures taken to tame the outbreak infringe people’s digital privacy. The analysis conducted by the privacy protection company Surfshark covers 12 applications in 12 different countries across the globe and aims to report what these apps are doing, what information they collect, and what consequences they could bring to the society.

Main findings:

  • At least 7 out of 10 apps* track GPS location
  • At least 6 out of 10 apps are unclear about what they track, don’t provide Terms and Conditions upfront, or use intrusive methods such as surveillance camera footage to track their users
  • At least 2 out of 10 apps clearly state that they share this information with third parties
  • At least 4 out of 10 apps were developed by or with the help of non-government bodies, such as private companies

*10 apps that are already released, as the UK and Belgium ones are not yet available

“Many crisis-management measures might become a fixture of life. Therefore, we must consider how our life after COVID-19 will be impacted permanently. Governments worldwide are introducing invasive, privacy-ignoring measures that people adapt to because they are afraid,” says Naomi Hodges, cybersecurity advisor at Surfshark. 

“Such Orwellian security measures, driven by the seemingly noble goal of public health safety, can be critiqued for a lot of reasons. The first of which is the fact that the majority of people lack cybersecurity education to evaluate the potential consequences of sharing their data,” explains Naomi Hodges.

Collecting an incredible amount of user data is increasingly recognized as a bad thing. It can fuel discrimination, especially since innocent-looking data may reveal sensitive information such as political views or sexuality.

For instance, the app developed in Colombia asks people if they have participated in any mass events in the previous eight days. Due to the recent protests all over the country, it is controversial and may have life-threatening consequences.

In countries that hold laws against such invasion of privacy – Belgium and its app-in-development being one of the examples – changes may be made to accommodate for intrusive apps. 

On top of that, some app developers may have other interests – especially in cases such as Alibaba group helping develop the Chinese app, or Google being involved in the development of the CoronaMadrid app. Ultimately, people would have to trust every company involved not to exploit the crisis. 

“There is no argument against the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to change our lives as we know them. It has already impacted millions of people who got sick, lost their jobs, and will impact so many more. Mass surveillance is quickly spreading along with the advancing technology – and this pandemic crisis is allowing them to both set a precedent and normalize it,” says Naomi Hodges.

The full analysis can be found here:

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