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Google and Apple Have Agreed to Track You for the Good of Us All

April 20, 2020

By: Drew Sorrell

In an effort to battle COVID-19, Google and Apple have announced an agreement to roll-out an API (essentially a software platform on which to develop an application or “App”) to allow the creation of Apps that can track people via the Bluetooth low energy functionality of both their Android and iPhones. The point of the software is to permit tracing and analysis of persons who become infected with COVID-19, and also those that come in to contact with them.

Because the Apps will use Bluetooth as the motive force behind the App rather than the GPS function, physical location—a privacy concern—theoretically will not be compromised. Rather the smartphones of persons who voluntarily download an App developed from the API will communicate with each other via Bluetooth creating a digital trail of contacts.

If a person with the App becomes ill, the individual may self-report via the App, which will then notify others who have come in contact with the infected individual so that appropriate precautions can be taken. The software would likewise permit medical data analysis of the spread of the virus.  

From a privacy perspective, the API/Apps are expected to anonymize user information by tracking the fact of contact with a person rather than the identity of a person. Such anonymization coupled with the opt-in nature should ameliorate “first step” privacy questions; however, the details will remain important.

Early reports suggest that the Apps will need a government champion to move the initiative forward as well as to guide and direct the development of the software so that the most useful data from a public health perspective is collected. At this point, no United States governmental agency has announced its intention to champion the effort.

A similar technology deployed in Singapore met with some success, but only achieved a 12% adoption rate. To be most effective, widespread adoption coupled with actual testing for COVID-19 is necessary.

Android and Apple have announced plans eventually to incorporate a contact tracing mechanism directly into their operating systems for the same purpose as the API/App, but it will take longer to roll out than the API/App. Such development will bear close watching from a privacy perspective.

For up-to-date news please follow our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center page.

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Drew Sorrell's practice focuses on complex commercial issues, relating to both litigation and contract/policy drafting.

Drew has years of experience litigating business matters, intellectual property/patent infringement disputes, data breach/privacy issues, wire fraud (spoofing/spear phishing), business torts/disputes, insurance coverage, personal injury and employment litigation. Likewise, he has significant experience drafting and negotiating software licenses (SaaS), Internet service provider agreements, data privacy/breach policies and procedures, employment/services agreements as well as the indemnity and insurance coverage related to those agreements.

Initially, Drew began his legal career as a judicial clerk to Senior United States District Judge John H. Moore II, in Jacksonville, Florida, and then practiced with an AmLaw top 10 firm in Manhattan primarily in their litigation department. After spending some time as an assistant county attorney responsible for litigation, he joined Lowndes and is currently chair of the firm’s multi-discipline Cybersecurity, Privacy & eDiscovery Group.

A founding member of the Sedona Conference Group 11 (Privacy/Data Security), Drew is frequently asked to speak and write on legal and ethical issues arising from technology, including unfair and deceptive trade practices, data breach, privacy, data governance, and technology contract drafting. He is also currently serving as chair of the Orange County Bar Association Intellectual Property Committee.

Drew has argued to the United States Court of Appeal for the Eleventh Circuit, at the federal level, and the Fifth District Court of Appeal at the state level. He is admitted to The United States Supreme Court Bar, as well as the Florida, New York and District of Columbia Bars. He is admitted to practice before all federal district courts in Florida as well as the Southern District of New York.

Born in Florida, Drew roots for his adopted football team—the FSU Seminoles (because neither Rollins nor George Washington has a football team). He is a proud father of two sons who play basketball and soccer, make great grades and generally keep him very busy in his spare time.

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