- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2020

The majority of Americans approves of governments tracking people who have tested positive for coronavirus via their cellphones’ whereabouts, but even more people oppose tracking citizens to enforce government-issued social distancing guidelines, a new poll shows.

The Pew Research Center found 52% of those surveyed said it was somewhat or very acceptable for the government to track coronavirus-infected persons through their phones to limit the virus’ spread. But 62% of respondents said such tracking was unacceptable if used to determine whether Americans are following social distancing guidelines.

The poll found that Democrats, blacks, Hispanics and people older than 30 had a greater propensity for permitting governments to track people via their phones.

“Republicans and Democrats tend to hold contrasting views about the appropriateness of tracking people’s movements during the pandemic,” wrote Monica Anderson and Brooke Auxier of the Pew Research Center. “While 61% of Democrats say it is very or somewhat acceptable for the government to use cellphones to track the location of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in order to understand how the virus may be spreading, that share falls to fewer than half among Republicans (45%). Independents’ views fall between these two groups.”

In recent weeks, tech companies have begun developing plans for contact-tracing coronavirus-infected persons via their phones. Apple and Google are collaborating to make their phones more interoperable and to allow users to opt in to a contact-tracing system that uses phones’ Bluetooth capabilities to determine whether someone has been exposed to a coronavirus-infected person.

Google has also begun publishing “COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports” tracking the aggregate and anonymized location data of Google Maps users that have their “Location History” setting turned on.

Americans appear uncomfortable with the limits of governments using cellphone location data in battling the coronavirus. The Pew survey said 54% of those surveyed said it was somewhat or very unacceptable for government to track the location of people who may have had contact with someone infected with coronavirus, and 60% of respondents did not think location-tracking via cellphones would make a difference in limiting the spread of the virus.

The Pew Research Center surveyed 4,917 respondents from April 7-12 with a 2.1% margin of error.

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