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Virus-tracing apps are rife with problems. Governments are rushing to fix them

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Virus-tracing apps are rife with problems. Governments are rushing to fix them

In April, reporters at The New York Times found that a government virus-tracing app in India, which had been downloaded more than 77 million times, could leak users’ precise locations. The Indian government immediately fixed the problem and soon began offering financial rewards to security researchers who find vulnerabilities in the app.

By Natasha Singer

In April, Norway released a smartphone app, Smittestopp or “stop infection,” that records users who come into close contact for more than 15 minutes and sends alerts if they have been exposed to the coronavirus .

“We can all help stop the spread of infection and save lives,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said in a statement at the time. “If many people download the Smittestopp app, we can open up society more and get our freedom back.”

Within two weeks, nearly 900,000 people — or about 1 out of 5 Norwegians older than 16 — had started using the app. But by mid-June, the government had temporarily turned off the service after data protection regulators there said Norway had so few coronavirus cases that the risks of intensified surveillance outweighed the app’s as yet unproven public health benefits. This week, the country’s data watchdog formally imposed an interim ban on the app.

Norway is one of many countries that rushed out apps to trace and monitor the coronavirus this spring, only to scramble to address serious complaints that soon arose over extensive user data-mining or poor security practices. Human rights groups and technologists have warned that the design of many apps put hundreds of millions of people at risk for stalking, scams, identity theft or oppressive government […]

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