Coronavirus is halting US data privacy efforts across tech companies

Data privacy has taken a backseat in terms of national priorities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, as Congress has shifted its whole focus to the virus and US tech companies have begun working with state and federal authorities to reach potential patients.

The US has turned to Silicon Valley during the pandemic in search of tech-based solutions to problems caused by the outbreak.

Google launched Verily — a site that directs possible patients in the San Francisco area to COVID-19 testing sites and also provides virus information.

The site has raised privacy concerns due to its requirement that patients have a Google account, and led Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) to question Google on whether data it gathers from Verily would be shared or used for commercial purposes.

Apple has also been questioned by Senate Democrats over a coronavirus app and site it was launching with the White House and FEMA, asking them similar information that was asked of Google.

A spokesperson for Verily told Politico it “will only retain the data as long as necessary to fulfill the purposes of the Baseline COVID-19 testing program, or unless the individual separately authorizes further retention and use of information.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also went digital, launching a new system to track the spread of COVID-19 across the country in late March.

The bipartisan emergency stimulus bill set aside at least $500 million for modernization of the CDC’s public health data surveillance and analytics infrastructure, and required the agency report on the development of a “surveillance and data collection system” within 30 days.

In early April, Google published charts showing the impact of lockdowns and “social distancing,” on a country by country basis.

Google said it published the reports to avoid any confusion about what it was providing to authorities, given the global debate that has emerged about balancing privacy-invasive location tracking with the need to prevent further outbreaks.

In Congress, a years-long, bipartisan effort for new federal consumer data protections, which gained national attention and bipartisan interest in 2018 as a result of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, appears unlikely to reach a conclusion by the end of this year.

The reason for this: coronavirus has left Congress unable to conduct essential business, stalling the introduction of any unrelated legislation.

According to Politico, negotiations related to the potential bill had slowed in recent months, specifically due to partisan disputes over whether the law should override state protections or allow consumers to have the right to sue companies over data privacy breaches.

With Post wires

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