It was bound to happen: Senators have expressed concern about Google’s role in developing a site to help screen potential coronavirus patients.
Google was caught off guard last week when President Trump said the company had 1,700 engineers working on a website designed to help screen potential coronavirus patients. In spite of the surprise, Google quickly got on board with the project and vowed to develop the site Trump had promised.
Unfortunately for the company, however, Google doesn’t have the best track record with privacy and security. As a result, several senators have raised concerns about the project, in a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Joining Sen. Bob Menendez in sending the letter were Sens. Sherrod Brown, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Richard Blumenthal.
“There are numerous privacy concerns about such an endeavor, including: whether people will be required to sign waivers forfeiting their privacy and personal data in order to access the questionnaire; whether Google or any of its subsidiaries will be prohibited from using data received through the website for commercial purposes; and whether Google and any of its subsidiaries will be prohibited from selling any data collected through the website to a third-party.”
The letter goes on to highlight the valuable nature of the data that will be collected and how much of a target it will be for hackers.
“To state the obvious, the information Americans enter on this website will be highly valuable to potential hackers, foreign state and nonstate actors with nefarious intent, and other criminal enterprises,” the senators continue. “We are concerned that neither the Administration nor Google has fully contemplated the range of threats to Americans’ personally identifiable information.”
Both points the letter raises are extremely pertinent. It was recently discovered that Google partnered with the Ascension healthcare group to collect the medical records of millions of American patients, without their knowledge. If patients are going to trust a website Google creates, they need to know their data is going to be used for the advertised purpose and not swallowed up into one of Google’s other commercial endeavors. Likewise, the data will represent a goldmine for hackers, requiring the very best in security technologies and processes.
The senators certainly aren’t the only individuals questioning whether Google is up to the task—on both fronts.