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Apple CEO Questioned by US Senate on Privacy of COVID-19 Screening App


Apple CEO Tim Cook was sent a letter signed by a few United States Senators in which they inquired about the privacy and security of user data from the company's COVID-19 screening app and website.

As per Bloomberg, the letter was sent by senators Bob Menendez, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal to Apple as an inquiry regarding the security and safety of American's private health data. The letter asked for details on the security and privacy policies in place for the screening app and website, and if they comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

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It is interesting that senators also asked Apple to provide details of agreements with government agencies, rather than reach out to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who partnered with Apple to create the app and website. Apple also clearly stated in its announcement that no personally identifiable data is captured from users. Responses from the screening tool are not sent to Apple or the government. The tools are not linked to the user's Apple ID either, which is something that the senators acknowledged in their letter to Tim Cook.

Here is the snippet from Apple's announcements which talks about user privacy:

Consistent with Apple’s strong dedication to user privacy, the COVID-19 app and website were built to keep all user data private and secure. The tools do not require a sign-in or association with a user’s Apple ID, and users’ individual responses will not be sent to Apple or any government organization.

One has to wonder, if these senators will also be sending a letter to Google, as they are using user location data to compile COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports. These reports actually use data captured from Google Maps app users, who have enabled Location History. On the other hand, Apple's offerings do not store any user data.