Politics

Senators want to know all about Apple's COVID-19 app, too

Questions about Apple's app and website follow a similar inquiry into the COVID-19 screening tool from Alphabet subsidiary Verily.

Person wearing a mask walks in front of Apple logo

Apple's COVID-19 screening app was made in partnership with the CDC and the White House Task Force on Coronavirus.

Photo: Bloomberg via Getty

If you're a tech company building a seemingly altruistic COVID-19 screening tool, you may want to prepare yourself for some questions from senators concerned that you'll exploit the potentially sensitive information the tool collects.

Alphabet and its subsidiary Verily have already received two such letters about the Bay Area screening and testing effort the latter launched last month.

Today, Apple received its own list of questions about its newly launched COVID-19 screening app and website from a group of senators including Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J. The policymakers pressed Apple over the nature of its partnership with the federal government and asked how Apple plans to use the data that it gathers through the COVID-19 screening tool.

The tool, which was launched in partnership with the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services, allows individuals to assess whether they should be tested for coronavirus.

The senators acknowledged that "technological innovations and collaboration with the private sector is a necessary component to combatting COVID-19," but added they don't want to see Americans "trade their privacy at the expense of public health needs."

"In the interest of Americans during these unprecedented times, all data collected via Apple's screening tools should remain confidential and must not be used for any commercial purposes in the future," they wrote.

They asked for more information about whether's Apple's tool falls under the jurisdiction of the country's major health data privacy law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It's an open question if data collected by screening tools like Apple's and Verily's fall under HIPAA's purview, or if Congress would need to draw up new privacy legislation to draw safeguards around similar health tools from major corporations.

Over the past several weeks, policymakers have increasingly raised questions around the safety and security of the litany of tools tech companies are creating to address the coronavirus crisis. In particular, Menendez, Harris, and Democrats Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Cory Booker have pummeled Alphabet subsidiary Verily with questions about its COVID-19 screening website, sending two letters over the course of a few weeks last month about whether Verily properly complies with existing health data privacy laws and whether the company will eventually monetize the data it collects.

The tech giants have quickly become instrumental players in the fight against coronavirus, launching tools, resources and millions of dollars in funding for efforts to beat back the spread of the fast-moving illness.

But their efforts have raised red flags for privacy hawks in Congress and beyond, who have warned that efforts to amass data about COVID-19 could ultimately hurt user privacy and allow the companies to capitalize on their ostensibly charitable efforts.

Reached for comment on Friday, Apple pointed Protocol to the landing page for its COVID-19 tool, which pledges that Apple is not collecting users' answers from the screening tool and will not collect personally identifiable information. And the website does not require any sign-in or association with a user's Apple ID.

Further, Apple said users' individual data is not shared with any governmental organization.

Updated with comment from Apple.

Protocol | Workplace

Productivity apps can’t stop making money

ClickUp had one of the biggest Series C funding rounds ever. Here's how it matches up to the other productivity unicorns.

ClickUp made $400 million in its series C funding round.

Photo: ClickUp

Productivity platform ClickUp announced a milestone today. The company raised $400 million, which is one of the biggest series C funding rounds in the workplace productivity market ever. The round, led by Andreessen Horowitz and Tiger Global, put the private company at a $4 billion valuation post-money.

In case it's not clear: This is a massive amount of money. It shows how hot the productivity space is right now, with some predicting the market size could reach almost $120 billion by 2028. In a world of hybrid workers, all-in-one tool platforms are all the rage among both startups and productivity stalwarts. Companies everywhere want to escape tool overwhelm, where work is spread across dozens of apps.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

If you've ever tried to pick up a new fitness routine like running, chances are you may have fallen into the "motivation vs. habit" trap once or twice. You go for a run when the sun is shining, only to quickly fall off the wagon when the weather turns sour.

Similarly, for many businesses, 2020 acted as the storm cloud that disrupted their plans for innovation. With leaders busy grappling with the pandemic, innovation frequently got pushed to the backburner. In fact, according to McKinsey, the majority of organizations shifted their focus mainly to maintaining business continuity throughout the pandemic.

Keep Reading Show less
Gaurav Kataria
Group Product Manager, Trello at Atlassian
The Supreme Court of the United States
Photo: Angel Xavier Viera-Vargas

If a company resolved a data breach in the past, does it need to disclose the potential negative fallout of that breach as a risk to investors later on? In a new petition asking the Supreme Court to take up the question, Alphabet is arguing emphatically: no. And it's using the ol' "the past is history, tomorrow's a mystery" defense.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Protocol | Workplace

Facebook’s hiring crisis: Engineers are turning down offers

"All of you are now starting to experience that major imbalance between supply and demand — and it doesn't feel good," a recruiting leader wrote in an internal memo.

Here are all the Facebook Papers stories
Image: Getty Images, Protocol

Facebook cannot find enough candidates to meet engineering demand, especially in the Bay Area, and has struggled and failed to meet early 2021 recruiting goals, according to a detailed internal memo outlining recruitment strategy and hiring pains.

The company also failed to meet hiring goals in 2019, which frustrated CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and it built an ad-hoc team of leaders to create an emergency plan to address the painful shortage, according to disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by Frances Haugen's legal counsel. A consortium of news organizations, including Protocol, has reviewed the redacted versions received by Congress.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Theranos trial reveals DeVos family invested $100 million

The family committed "on the spot" to double its investment, an investment adviser said. Meanwhile, the jury lost another two members, with two alternates left.

Betsy DeVos' family invested $100 million in Theranos, an investment adviser said.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Lisa Peterson, a wealth manager for the DeVos family, testified in Elizabeth Holmes's criminal fraud trial Tuesday, as prosecutors continued to highlight allegations about how the Theranos CEO courted investors in the once-high-flying blood-testing startup.

An email presented by the defense revealed that the family committed to doubling their investment in Theranos to $100 million "on the spot" during a 2014 visit to company headquarters.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma
Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol, where she writes about management, leadership and workplace issues in tech. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.
Latest Stories