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Apple tells senators it's committed to privacy with its coronavirus tools

The tech giant responds to questions about a coronavirus website and screening app it launched last month.

Angela Lang/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

Apple repeated its privacy pledges in a letter to US senators, answering questions about a website and app it unveiled last month to help update people about the coronavirus and assist in self-screening symptoms.

In the letter dated Friday and sent in response to a series of questions senators sent two weeks ago, Apple outlined privacy protections it built into its website and associated app while working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health and Human Services Department. Bloomberg earlier reported the letter.

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Among them, the company said it doesn't require people to sign in to view its tools, and no user data is sent to Apple nor "any government organization."

"Access to important information and guidance regarding individual health or the health of a loved one should not require individuals to compromise their privacy rights," wrote Timothy Powderly, Apple's senior director of government affairs. He also noted that although the company's website is not subject to patient privacy laws, it would comply anyway.

"We apply the principle of data minimization to all of its consumer products and services, and our COVID-19 resources are no exception," Powderly added.

Apple's letter is just the latest example of how the iPhone maker is pushing privacy issues amid the coronavirus pandemic. In the past few days, the company's also outlined a project it started with Google to use new tools within the company's smartphone software to help warn people about when they've been in close contact with someone recently infected with the coronavirus. That suite of tools, which will begin being made available next month, are also designed to ensure people's identities and data are protected, the two companies said. And when the crisis has ended, they've promised to shut down the tracking tools too.