SURVEY: 54% of Irish people concerned about data privacy with covid tracker app

As many as 54% of Irish people have said they have some privacy concerns about the covid tracker app, according to a survey conducted by the PRIVATT research project team.

The survey, taken with a sample of 1,000 people across Ireland, reported that 13% of participants are “extremely concerned” about data privacy regarding the HSE’s covid app, while 41% are “moderately concerned.”

When asked the reason for concern, most said privacy, followed by mistrust of the government to manage the data. When asked to rank the various institutions from most to least trustworthy, the HSE was rated as most trusted, while private companies like Google were voted least.

Previously, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties raised concerns about transparency regarding Apple and Google’s involvement in the app.

“Experts have today raised the alarm about serious privacy and data harvesting concerns related to Google Play Services,” they said in a statement.

“This software component must be running on the phones of all Android users who wish to use the Covid-19 contact-tracing app rolled out in Ireland. It is also turned on by default on almost all Android phones.

“Professor Douglas Leith and Dr Stephen Farrell, of Trinity College Dublin, have discovered that Google Play Services sends highly sensitive personal data to Google servers every 20 minutes and this potentially allows for IP address-based location tracking of the phone user. Even where users turn Google Play Services off, data is still collected, possibly in contravention of GDPR.

“While Android users can, in theory, opt to turn off Google Play Services, users of the Covid-19 contact-tracing app in Ireland cannot turn the surveillance off if they want the contact-tracing app to work. This means the collection and use of this data is unavoidable for people who wish to use the app.

“The data shared includes long-term, unchangeable identifiers of the phone users, including their phone’s IP address, WiFi MAC address, International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, SIM serial number, phone number and Gmail address, as well as fine-grained data from other, potentially sensitive apps, such as banking, dating or health apps. This is data which, when considered together, has the potential to draw a very detailed map of our lives and activities.”

“This is extremely troubling from a privacy viewpoint, and of course it goes way beyond the HSE contact-tracing app,” Professor Leith commented.

“But given that governments and public health authorities are strongly encouraging their entire populations to use these apps, and hence are (wittingly or not) pressurising their entire populations to take part in this corporate surveillance, we think they should be telling Google to immediately fix this problem. This level of intrusiveness is simply incompatible with a recommendation for population-wide usage.”

62% of participants in the survey claimed that they either have used or are currently using the app, and 42% of those said that they are concerned about what will happen to their information once they stop using the app.

The survey comes a week after it was found that the mobile carrier Three was providing aggregated anonymised movement data of all its 2.4 million Irish customers to the Department of Health and CSO, so that the government could monitor compliance with the covid-19 5km movement restrictions.

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