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Location Data and COVID-19 Contact Tracing: How Data Privacy Regulations and Cell Service Providers Work In Tandem

by   Callie Monroe, et al.

Governments, Healthcare, and Private Organizations in the global scale have been using digital tracking to keep COVID-19 outbreaks under control. Although this method could limit pandemic contagion, it raises significant concerns about user privacy. Known as  "Contact Tracing Apps", these mobile applications are facilitated by Cellphone Service Providers (CSPs), who enable the spatial and temporal real-time user tracking. Accordingly, it might be speculated that CSPs collect information violating the privacy policies such as GDPR, CCPA, and others. To further clarify, we conducted an in-depth analysis comparing privacy legislations with the real-world practices adapted by CSPs. We found that three of the regulations (GDPR, COPPA, and CCPA) analyzed defined mobile location data as private information, and two (T-Mobile US, Boost Mobile) of the five CSPs that were analyzed did not comply with the COPPA regulation. Our results are crucial in view of the threat these violations represent, especially when it comes to children's data. As such proper security and privacy auditing is necessary to curtail such violations. We conclude by providing actionable recommendations to address concerns and provide privacy-preserving monitoring of the COVID-19 spread through the contact tracing applications.


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