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Billions of people could be invisible in COVID-19 contract tracing efforts utilizing smartphone apps

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Jonathan Marshall, director, The Center for Consumer Law and Education WVU Photo

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A West Virginia University consumer law expert says recent announcements by Apple and Google that they’re developing a system to enable widespread contact tracing in an effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic raises significant questions beyond whether such a plan might even be effective.

Jonathan Marshall, director of The Center for Consumer Law and Education, believes concerns over privacy and data security can be addressed but a potentially larger issue exists related to these smartphone technologies. 


"The biggest concern is obviously privacy, which Democratic senators have already expressed in an open letter to the companies. Although Apple and Google apparently intend to keep individual health information private, data breaches are certainly a risk. 

“Another concern is that governments or third parties could use this technology for broader surveillance purposes, or to create a database of who is infected. To be fair, the companies have represented that the design will be maximized to protect individual privacy and have promised to dismantle the system when it becomes appropriate.

“Another real concern not easily alleviated, however, is that using smartphones to track the virus obviously leaves out seniors and low-income individuals who don’t own such devices; around half the global population still doesn’t have smartphones.” – Jonathan Marshall, Director, Center for Consumer Law and Education, WVU College of Law

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CONTACT: Jonathan Marshall
Director, Center for Consumer Law and Education
WVU College of Law

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