Americans are wary about contact tracing apps

iPhone face unlock with mask
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

New research from ExpressVPN has revealed that while many Americans distrust contact tracing apps, they are still willing to use them for the greater good during the global pandemic.

The VPN provider surveyed 1,200 American adults to find that 75 percent of respondents believe that contact tracing apps violate a person's privacy and 77 percent think these apps put them are at risk of long term mass surveillance.

However, Americans do realize that these uncertain times require complex, out-of-the-box solutions. Despite the potential loss of privacy as a result of contact tracing apps, 59 percent of those surveyed did indicate a willingness to forgo some of their rights for the sake of public health.

Vice president of ExpressVPN, Harold Li provided further insight on the survey's findings in a blog post, saying:

“It’s clear that most Americans are invested in the public-health benefits of using contact-tracing technology. However, privacy concerns continue to weigh heavily, and it’s clear that governments and tech companies need to place clear limits and safeguards on contact-tracing efforts,”

Contact tracing apps

Google and Apple have developed a contact tracing API which use Bluetooth and GPS data to provide a low-cost solution to find out who those infected with Covid-19 have come into contact with. Contact tracing is not a new idea and in the past, it has been done manually but this requires a lot more work as well as time.

Singapore, South Korea, Iceland and Israel are all currently using contact tracing apps to fight the spread of Covid-19 while Australia and the UK are in the process of creating localized versions of these apps for their residents.

However, states such as New York, California and Massachusetts have eschewed contact tracing apps and have instead decided to take an analog approach. These states have hired tens of thousands of people to act as manual contact tracers and doctors and public health officials across the US are urging the federal government to follow suit. They argue that manual contact tracing has been practiced for decades and the current situation is too dire to use an untested tech-based approach.

Over half (54%) of ExpressVPN survey respondents expressed willingness to voluntarily download a contact tracing app, though concerns about potential data misuse are still high. Of those surveyed, 84 percent believe the government could overstep its boundaries with the data and 79 percent believe that tech giants could as well.

Contact tracing will soon be coming to your iPhone or Android smartphone. In fact, Apple's latest iOS 13.5 update includes a new feature called Exposure Notifications that contains the API needed for contact tracing apps to function. The update also makes it easier to use Apple's Face ID when wearing a face mask so that users don't have to remove them to unlock their phones.

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Anthony Spadafora

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.