FARGO — The developer of an app North Dakota and South Dakota are using for coronavirus tracking says user data is not being shared and accused a software privacy firm of "incorrectly, and potentially unethically" saying the contrary.
Microsoft developer Tim Brookins of Fargo said the free mobile app Care19, created under Brookins' company ProudCrowd and promoted by Gov. Doug Burgum and the state, is not exposing user information because a third party it works with has not and "will not, collect data from Care19 users".
North Dakota residents have been urged to download Care19 on their cell phones to be used for contact tracing. If somebody tests positive for coronavirus, they can use the app to report where they've been and with whom they been in contact. Those people can then be isolated to help stop the spread of the virus.
The state's COVID-19 resource website says, "Once the app is downloaded, individuals will be given a random ID number and the app will anonymously cache the individual’s locations throughout the day."
Foursquare is a mobile app that provides "personalized recommendations of places to go near a user's current location based on users' previous browsing history and check-in history," according to the company's website. The concern for users is that Foursquare and other companies would sell the collected data to advertisers.
"The app really isn't anonymous," Valade said.
The story has been reported by the Washington Post and the online site Fast Company.
But Brookins says Foursquare is not collecting data from Care19.
"The simple overarching fact here is that we have stated, and Foursquare has confirmed that they have not, nor will not, collect data from Care19 users. Period," Brookins said in an email. "We do send data to Foursquare, which we use to determine which business is most likely to have been where you went. Foursquare takes that data, looks for nearby businesses and returns the most likely place. But Foursquare doesn’t store that data."
Jennifer Yu, a spokeswoman for Foursquare, said in an email, "Foursquare does not use, repackage, or resell the data. Essentially, any data we might receive is immediately discarded."
Spokesman Mike Nowatzki said in an email the governor's office would soon have a response.
Brookins accused Jumbo of potentially unethical actions.
"JumboPrivacy used a network tracer to see us sending that data to Foursquare and, incorrectly and potentially unethically, claimed, or implied that Foursquare was collecting data on our users. Which they are not," Brookins said in an email.
He also pointed to Jumbo's website as evidence the company has an agenda.
"Their entire main page is oriented to sell a paid app that alerts users to potential security threats. While that can be a valuable consumer service, I would simply note that they are incented to make flashy claims about security threats as it helps sell their app," Brookins said.
The app was launched in early April. Almost 34,000 users have downloaded it in North Dakota.
"Your location data is private to you and is stored securely on ProudCrowd, LLC servers. Third parties that we use (Foursquare, Google Firebase and Bugfender) may have temporary access to aspects of your data for their specific data processing tasks. However, they will not collect this data in a form that allows themselves or others to access or otherwise use this data."
Brookins, best known in Fargo for developing the Bison Tracker app that traces North Dakota State football fans traveling to Texas for the Football Championship Subdivision national title game, told the Washington Post that the Care19 uses a Foursquare service to convert location data it collects as latitude and longitude into the names of recognizable places.
Valade said he wants to know why Foursquare needs to know the anonymous user ID number given to Care19 users.