One of the most important pillars of Apple’s business has become individual user privacy and security, and that certainly extends to its first-party apps. Including its brand new COVID-19 app and website.
If you’ll recall, a little over a week ago several different United States Senators sent a letter to Apple in an effort to determine just how private the company’s COVID-19 app and website really are. These Senators wanted to know if Apple was doing its part to keep users’ health data secure, especially during the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic. It turns out Apple sent a letter in response to that initial query, which it sent out last Friday (April 10). Bloomberg was first to point it out today.
As it should, Apple provided specific responses to questions posed by the U.S. Senators. It should not be surprising that Apple’s focus on security and privacy is still in place, even with an app and website that deals with sensitive information like a person’s overall health. Apple says the new app and website were built to “built to protect the privacy and security of users’ data”. The rest of one of those responses from Apple goes as follows:
As you note, use of the tools do not require a sign-in or association with a user’s Apple ID, and users’ individual responses are not sent to Apple or any government organization. Access to important information and guidance regarding individual health or the health of a loved one should not require individuals to compromise their privacy rights. Rather, it is in times like these, that our commitment to protecting those rights is most important. Our COVID-19 app and website were designed with that in mind.
The app and website have an obvious opt-in process, and there are privacy terms in place that cover any transfer of personal data — which the user has to agree to before it can happen. Meanwhile, no health insurance companies or health care providers are capable of acquiring the data users put into the app and/or website, which means neither resource is covered or subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
Apple says in its response to the U.S. Senators that it has an agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) via the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the development of the website.
Finally, Apple says it won’t be using any of the private data that users share with the app or website for commercial purposes, and it will not ever sell that data, either.
You can check out Apple’s full response over at Bloomberg, but Apple maintains that its app and website are secure and privacy remains its key priority even for resources like its COVID-19 app and website.