Social media was abuzz on Wednesday after a report suggested cellphone companies had agreed to hand over users’ location data to the government for tracking purposes in an effort to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. This is not the case.
Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said on Wednesday at a media briefing that the telecommunications industry had collectively agreed to provide “data analytics services in order to help government” determine how many individuals are affected by the coronavirus in a particular area.
This type of aggregated metadata has been used in a number of countries to help governments create models of the movement of people in their fight against the illness.
Byron Kennedy, a spokesman for Vodacom Group, said South African laws “serve to protect customer information and do not allow us to share any customer information without a court order or without the consent of the customer”.
“In the event that Vodacom is served with a section 205 subpoena from the court, we will then be obliged to act accordingly and will abide by applicable South African laws,” he said.
“Having said that, our understanding of the data information request outlined earlier today by minister Ndabeni-Abrahams is for high-level aggregated data on how people are moving to help curb the spread of Covid-19. This does not include personal information or information that identifies a specific individual.”
‘Anonymous and aggregated’
Reuters last week reported that European mobile operators have begun sharing data with health authorities in Italy, Germany and Austria in those countries’ fight against the virus — but respecting Europe’s privacy laws.
The data, the news wire said, is “anonymous and aggregated” making it possible to “map concentrations and movements of customers in ‘hot zones’ where Covid-19 has taken hold.”
That is less invasive than the approach taken in countries such as China, Taiwan and South Korea, which are using smartphone GPS location readings to trace the location of individuals who have tested positive for Covid-19 or to enforce quarantine orders, the report said. — (c) 2020 NewsCentral Media