The Big Data grab: ‘Contact tracing’ being used as smokescreen for private data collection

The Big Data grab: ‘Contact tracing’ being used as smokescreen for private data collection

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If you think you’re being tracked through your smartphones, you are partially right. If you think you’re very likely being tracked by your smartphones in mid-May when Big Tech and the U.S. government partner to allow “contact tracing” in an effort to stop the coronavirus, you’d be absolutely correct. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning.

In an article that was clearly intended to ease concerns over private information being collected by Big Tech and given to the federal government, Reuters rolled out three of the most outspoken privacy advocates on Capitol Hill to give their blessing to the contact tracing program.

U.S. lawmaker says any COVID-19 contact tracing tech should be voluntary and limited

Markey urged President Donald Trump’s administration to balance public health needs as states seek to allow businesses to reopen their doors with the privacy rights of individuals who may be monitored.

Alphabet’s Google and Apple said recently they were collaborating on technology to create smartphone apps that would help identify people who have crossed paths with a contagious person and alert them.

“The federal government must provide leadership, coordination, and guidance to ensure that contact tracing efforts are effective and do not infringe upon individuals’ civil liberties, including the right to privacy,” Markey wrote in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence.

Senators Edward Markey, Richard Blumenthal, and Josh Hawley have built reputations for being privacy advocates. But their caution is conspicuously muted as they make minor demands of Apple and Google on how they handle the location and interaction data being collected for the sake of the coronavirus. These and other Senators and Congressmen are assuming that data like this, which is already partially being collected, becomes irretrievable once it’s “destroyed.” But “destroying” the data within the scope of these programs does not mean the data is no longer stored as part of general mobile information collection.

In other words, the relationship data will be wiped but the location data will not be. That means that at any time in the future, these companies or the government can reintroduce the algorithms necessary to reconcile the data into the same actionable format.

The program may be geared around the coronavirus, but that’s only the public side of the picture. On the back end, these Big Tech companies (and likely the government officials supporting it) realize this is an excuse to expand big data collection for future use on other matters. People who are not willing to share their location data today may be more inclined to do so if when they’re told their phones can tell them when they’ve been around someone who is suspected of being infected or who had prior contact with someone who has.

The slippery slope that’s often invoked in situations involving government and Big Tech is starting at its pinnacle. Tracking location data, cross-referencing multiple degrees of interaction data, and accessing relationship data is the most blatant first step towards an Orwellian scenario in which the government as well as private companies know where you are, where you’ve been, and who you’ve interacted with over time.

This is no longer just fodder for conspiracy theorists. This is actually happening and will likely be widely embraced by a general populace that has been terrified into thinking there are no limits to coronavirus caution. What most Americans do not realize is that contact tracing of the coronavirus is one of dozens of applications for the data they’re collecting. Sadly, the vast majority of other applications are both worrisome as well as potentially dangerous. To put it into perspective, this is the type of data China has been using for their social credit scoring system.

They say desperate times call for desperate measures. Are we really so desperate we’re willing to let Big Tech and the government keep tabs on us literally 24/7? Is privacy and freedom worth abandoning for the illusion of greater safety?

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