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Vaccination tracking apps ineffective, amplify inequalities, pose privacy issues: report

Published: June 2, 2021
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Source: the hill

A new report is warning that apps to track the coronavirus vaccination status of Americans are ineffective, amplify existing inequalities and pose thorny privacy issues.

“As the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance evolves and we start to see increasingly different recommendations for those of us who are and aren't vaccinated it puts greater pressure on the public, businesses and governments to figure out who has got a shot,” said Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), which released the report. “It’s kind of alarming that so much faith is being put in such an unproven technology.”

With vaccination rates steadily climbing and the businesses reopening their doors, some governments and companies have proposed digital credentials to make sure only inoculated Americans can enter. While documentation for international travel - like the World Health Organization’s “Yellow Card” - is commonplace, some of the methods in development domestically have alarmed the public and experts alike.

The watchdog's report released Wednesday focuses on New York state’s Excelsior pass, the country’s first government issued vaccine passport. The tool, which can be downloaded on either phones or computers, generates a QR code that businesses and venues can scan to verify proof of vaccination or a negative test.

The Excelsior Pass, developed by IBM and Salesforce, has been downloaded over a million times since the voluntary program was launched in March.

The nonprofit's report cautions that the passes can easily be forged, greatly diminishing their effectiveness. Cahn said he downloaded another New Yorker’s pass using only information available on social media in just 11 minutes.

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