Senators ask Apple CEO Tim Cook about the company’s COVID-19 app privacy practices

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, at the 2019 DreamForce conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Nov. 19, 2019.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Four U.S. senators sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook on Friday asking questions about the company’s COVID-19 app and how it handles personal data. 

The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez, Richard Blumenthal, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, and asks for details about how Apple is handling personal information from the app and whether it complies with the healthcare data regulation HIPAA. 

The senators also ask for “specific terms of any agreement between your company and the federal government and/or state governments.”

Apple released a screening app and website called COVID-19 in March in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control, the White House-led coronavirus task force and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The app includes a screening tool for for COVID-19 symptoms as well as up-to-date information from trusted sources about the coronavirus outbreak. Apple is not providing any tests.

The app is currently No. 2 in the health and fitness category on Apple’s App Store. 

The senators note Apple’s privacy-focused messaging inside the app, but are looking for more details.

“While we acknowledge Apple’s statements regarding user privacy and that the questionnaire tools ‘do not require a sign-in or association with a user’s Apple ID, and users’ individual responses will not be sent to Apple or any government organization,’ we are nonetheless concerned for the safety and security of Americans’ private health data,” they write. 

“Apple is not collecting your answers from the screening tool. To help improve the site, Apple collects some information about how you use it. The information collected will not personally identify you,” Apple says on the COVID-19 website. 

Last week, many of the same senators plus Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown sent similar questions to Verily CEO Andrew Conrad about the Alphabet company’s COVID-19 screening program

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