According to a study commissioned by the security software vendor Avira, 71% of Americans say they won’t use COVID-19 contact-tracing apps, with many citing potential privacy and security issues.
Government and healthcare professionals were the least likely to say they’d download the apps, and about three-quarters of people surveyed believed their digital privacy would be at risk if data were stored centrally so the government and other authorities could access it.
WHY IT MATTERS
Although research suggests contact-tracing apps can aid in slowing the spread of COVID-19, many have voiced privacy concerns around their use.
The latest survey data is no exception: Only 29% of Americans surveyed said they would download and use the apps.
Avira commissioned the research firm Opinion Matters to ask 2,005 people about their plans to use contact-tracing apps in an online survey that was completed on June 1.
Of the respondents, more than 40% said they didn’t trust any organization to keep their information safe. About a third trusted Google or Apple, 28% said they trusted Microsoft, and only 14% said they would trust the government to do so. If data must be shared, people said they were most comfortable with it going directly to hospitals.
People ages 25 through 44 viewed COVID contact-tracing apps as the biggest current threat to digital privacy – more than identity theft or cybercrime. Those over 55 were the least likely to use the apps, saying they, too, don’t trust the technology to keep their data safe. They also expressed concerns about the apps giving a false sense of security.
Women were far less likely to download the technology than men; no data was available regarding nonbinary respondents.
THE LARGER TREND
Wide-ranging concerns about privacy have driven multiple lawmakers to introduce legislation that would mandate data security in contact-tracing apps.
In May, Democrats introduced bicameral legislation that would forbid companies from misusing collected data; it also aims to prevent potential misuse by unrelated government agencies.
Earlier this month, Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Bill Cassidy, R-La. put forward legislation that requires public health officials to be involved with any exposure notification systems, among other mandates.
Although that bill’s measures echo some existing protections built into Google and Apple’s technology, Cassidy told Healthcare IT News that, without legislation, “We’re relying on Google and Apple to establish standards.”
“I’m not saying people don’t trust them, I’m just saying people may not,” he added.
From the Avira survey, it seems clear that many members of the public don’t trust Google, Apple or members of the government.
ON THE RECORD
“We believe these survey results send a clear signal to both app creators and the government. COVID contact tracing apps could fail before they launch if developers don’t communicate to the public how they plan to protect people’s privacy,” said Travis Witteveen, CEO of Avira.
“Furthermore, most Americans reported they currently trust Big Tech over the government; for the success of this important venture, the technology experts should lead the charge on COVID contact tracing apps,” Witteveen continued.