Most Americans say 'No' to coronavirus contact tracing apps

Some 71% of people polled cited privacy concerns as the main reason for not wanting to use a COVID-19 tracing app, says Avira.

Coronavirus tracking or contact tracing application to reduce coronavirus spreading after quarantine detecting infected people.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Many countries and companies have launched or plan to launch coronavirus tracing apps as one way to stem the spread of COVID-19. These apps work by identifying and notifying people who may have come into contact with someone who's tested positive for the virus. But such apps have raised privacy fears as they do require some monitoring of a person's interactions in relation to fellow users. A report published Tuesday by security provider Avira explores the reluctance on the part of many to adopt these contact tracing apps.

SEE: How tech companies are fighting COVID-19 with AI, data and ingenuity (TechRepublic) 

Commissioned by Avira and conducted by research firm Opinion Matters, an online survey of 2,005 people found that 71% of them would not use COVID-19 contact tracing apps. Among that group, 44% pointed to digital privacy concerns as the key reason for their reluctance.

Other reasons for not using the apps included a belief that they give a false sense of security, the notion that they will not slow the spread of the virus, and a lack of trust of developers of these apps.

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Image: Avira

The survey also measured which organizations and technologies people might trust to keep their contact tracing data secure and private. Some 40% of the respondents said they wouldn't trust anyone in this regard. Among those more willing to trust, 32% said they'd have faith in Apple and Google, 28% in Microsoft, 17% in Covid Watch (which uses anonymous contact tracing), and 14% in the government.

How and where contact tracing data is stored is another aspect that triggered privacy concerns. A full 75% of respondents believe their digital privacy would be at risk if the information in COVID-19 contact tracing apps is stored centrally so that governments and authorities can access it.

When asked who should have access to the data from these apps, 40% said they wouldn't trust any organization with the information. Among the remaining respondents, 27% said they'd be comfortable with hospitals having that access, 23% would be OK with Apple and Google having such access, 21% with their state government, and 18% with the federal government.

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Image: Avira

The responses differed among several factors, including age, gender, and profession. People ages 25 to 44 see COVID contact tracing apps as the biggest threat to their digital privacy in 2020, even more worrisome than identity theft or cybercrime. A full 88% of those over 55 said they wouldn't use these apps. Further, only 18% of women said they'd download the apps, compared with 40% of men.

Among people who work in Information Technology, 64% would be willing to download a COVID contact tracing app. But among those who work in government or healthcare, only 16% would be inclined to use such an app. The irony here is that government health authorities and departments would be behind many of the tracing apps, such as the ones designed for the exposure notification system from Apple and Google.

"We believe these survey results send a clear signal to both app creators and the government," Avira CEO Travis Witteveen said in the report. "COVID contact tracing apps could fail before they launch if developers don't communicate to the public how they plan to protect people's privacy. Furthermore, most Americans reported they currently trust Big Tech over the government; for the success of this important venture, the technology experts should lead the charge on COVID contact tracing apps."

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