Norway’s data inspectorate has banned the use of a public health application to control the spread of COVID-19 over data protection concerns.
The application Smittestopp “collects large amounts of personal information about those who use the app, including continuous location data and information about users’ contact with others,” the Norwegian Data Protection Authority said in a statement on Monday.
The app was set up to use both GPS and Bluetooth to track people’s movements to determine the effects of social distancing and who the users come into contact with. The information gathered is then stored for 30 days.
Norway’s public health institute said the decision to temporarily ban the app would “weaken an important part of our preparedness” and reduce the agency’s ability to “fight the ongoing spread of infection.”
Norway has recorded 8,631 cases and 242 deaths in a country with a population of 5.3 million people.
The app had been tested in three municipalities and by June 3, had been downloaded 1.6 million times with nearly 600,000 active users.
“The personal data that are collected will not be used to monitor whether individuals are complying with any official recommendations or rules,” the public health institute had previously specified.
Like the coronavirus tracking apps in many other countries, the application alerts people who have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
The public health institute said that the “personal data collected” will not be used to “monitor whether individuals are complying with any official recommendations or rules.”
Bjørn Erik Thon, director of Norway’s Data Protection Authority, said in a statement that the app does not let people “choose to contribute personal information to the infection tracking without accepting that the information is to be used at the same time for analysis and research.”
Thon added that the inspectorate questioned the lack of choice for app users to determine how their data was used.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said that without either a vaccine or an effective treatment, they hoped to find another solution to keep the app running.
“This will result in poorer preparedness because we lose time for developing and testing the app, and also poorer control of the spread of infection in Norway,” Camilla Stoltenberg, the public health institute’s director, said in a statement.
Initial tests of the application showed that people began easing up on social distancing around May 10. Now the public health institute is encouraging people to keep the application on their phone in the event that it can be reactivated.
The data agency and public health institute will meet later this week with the public health institute set to give feedback on the concerns raised about the GPS tracking and data storage by next week.
Data privacy experts have warned that governments should not keep data or use location tracking as part of coronavirus applications, insisting that it should also be up to users whether or not to download these apps.