The first page on the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID Alert PA tracing app. The app is being used to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 within Pennsylvania. (Annalise Kelloff/B&W Staff)

Students cautious about using Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 tracing app due to privacy concerns


The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s coronavirus tracing app, COVID Alert PA, is one tool the state is using to reduce the unknown spread of COVID-19. 

The Brown and White spoke with students who believe that having the app, however, will infringe on their privacy. 

Lehigh is encouraging students to use the app, but it is not required, Lori Friedman, director of media relations, said in an email. 

The app uses the Exposure Notification System provided by Apple and Google, Friedman said. The Brown and White asked Friedman who might be best to speak with on this issue within the university, and Friedman said all questions would be answered by herself.

She said the app does not replace the manual contact tracing efforts that Lehigh is undergoing. 

“The free app allows you to opt-in to receive alerts if you have had a potential exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, which can help you take timely and appropriate action,” she said.

The app becomes most effective when more people are using it, Friedman said. 

Jonah Dafilou, ‘21, had not heard about the app before but said he would not download it.  Dafilou said he is worried about what the app means for his privacy, as he does not want his location tracked.

The idea that the app can connect to devices around the user makes some students uncomfortable, but Friedman said privacy should not be an issue. 

She said the app will never collect, transmit or store personal information, ensuring an anonymous experience for users. 

Bailey Lieberman, ‘21, also said he is worried about his privacy, but he would be more likely to use it than Dafilou.

While Lieberman thinks it would be dangerous to have an app that is tracking your location, he believes it is a good idea. 

“I would use the app if there was a way to tell it when I am leaving the house and when it would be a more effective time,” he said. “I understand where people are coming from, that they don’t want their privacy infringed upon, but at the same time, a lot of people are dying. I think those people (worried about privacy) might have to suck it up.”

Friedman said the app is helpful in alerting people if they have come in contact with a known coronavirus case. 

Dafilou believes it would be hard to get every student to download the app. 

“I think the more students that knew about the app, there would definitely be proportionally more people who use it, but I don’t think you would be able to get total participation,” Dafilou said.

Lieberman said students’ ideas about the coronavirus would play into whether or not they would feel comfortable using the app. 

He said there is a wide range of people with drastically different ideas about the virus. 

“A lot of people think the coronavirus is a hoax,” Lieberman said. “A lot of people are deathly afraid of it. So, I think it really depends on who you talk to.” 

In the first 24 hours of the app launching in September, 50,000 Pennsylvanians downloaded the app, TribLive reported.

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1 Comment

  1. The answer to privacy concerns is to severely punish anyone who misuses the information. I don’t believe in cruel punishment but unusual is OK if it works.

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