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Privacy fears over new app for contact tracing


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The Government has been warned about privacy issues in its new contact-tracing app, as research suggests that Google technology used in other similar apps may lead to individuals being identified or being tracked for ads.

The Trinity College Dublin (TCD) report, from Professor Douglas Leith and Stephen Farrell, comes as pressure mounts on Health Minister Simon Harris and the HSE to disclose what technology will be used in Ireland's contact-tracing app.

Fears have arisen that the app may inadvertently allow agencies or companies to identify and track citizens.

Earlier this week, Mr Harris admitted that public take-up would be crucial.

"This will only work if the people of Ireland download it," he told the Dáil on Thursday. "Otherwise, it won't make a blind bit of difference."

Experts say take-up of more than 60pc of smartphone users is needed.

The TCD report examined the role of privacy and Google in Singapore's OpenTrace app, often a focus for European governments exploring their own potential apps, as a case study.

It found that analytics owned by Google and used by the Singapore app make it possible for users to be identified.

It also quotes Google's own literature around its Firebase analytics, citing ad-tracking as a potential use.

The study recommends that Singapore remove the Google analytics from the contact-tracing app.

"There's an obvious potential conflict of interest," said Professor Leith.

"In this case, it's a company whose business model is collecting personal data for commercial use. It can be done inadvertently because of the rush to produce an app quickly and all of the pressure to do this."

Spokespeople for Google, the HSE and Nearform, the company designing Ireland's app, declined to comment.

Irish Independent