Google Virus Apps Give it Way to Access Location Data

Some Android users in Europe say they feel misled by their governments. Instructions on many of the apps direct Android users to turn on location, for instance, but make no mention of Google or that users can stop the company from determining their precise locations by turning off the accuracy feature within the location setting.

“With this app, you’re invited, by the government strongly appealing to your sense of responsibility and morality, to give away your live location to entities that are getting a profit out of it, in order to protect public health,” said Massimo Zannoni, an electronic engineer in Zurich.

Health officials in Denmark, Germany, Latvia and Switzerland said their governments had deliberately designed their national virus alert apps for maximum privacy.

“No government, no security agency has any chance to misuse the technology,” Gottfried Ludewig, director general for digitalization and innovation for Germany’s Ministry of Health, said of the Corona-Warn-App, which has been downloaded more than 15.5 million times. He said more than 500 people who tested positive for the virus had used the app to notify other users of possible virus exposure.

He added that if Google used location data for any other purpose than enabling the Bluetooth services in the app, it would need legal grounds to do so under European data protection law.

Others involved in the German app said it was Google’s issue, not theirs.

“You need to ask Google about the specs of their operating system,” Marcus Winkler, a spokesman for SAP, which helped develop Germany’s app, said in an email. “If you turn on location tracking you get a message from the operating system — this has nothing to do with the app.”

Professor Dmitrienko, the software security expert, said the solution was for governments to push Google to stop requiring Android users of the virus alert apps to turn on location.

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