Apple limits pandemic ‘health pass’ apps  

A volunteer uses CommonPass to board a flight from London to Newark. The CommonPass health pass allows travellers to securely share their Covid-19 status across international borders. Photo credit: CommonPass

Seeing an influx of “health pass” apps, Apple said it will only accept those that are being developed in conjunction with entities recognized by public health authorities.

Several companies have recently developed tools for users to report Covid-19 test results or their vaccination status, whether to enter an office building or catch a flight. But Apple isn’t just letting any of them into its app store. It’s limiting those to developers working with test kit manufacturers, laboratories, healthcare providers, and government agencies themselves.

These restrictions are in place, Apple, said, “to ensure these apps reasonably handle sensitive data and provide reliable functionality.”

One app that has already garnered wide adoption is Health Pass, developed by biometric security company Clear — better known for its paid pre-check lanes at airport security. It’s being used by the state of Hawaii, sport arenas and some airports, and is working with test providers Quest and Labcorp.

For its health screening, for example, users are asked to take a selfie and answer a series of questions about how they’re feeling. But the app’s use of facial recognition technology has raised questions about users’ privacy, with Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) asking the company about its privacy and data collection practices.

Another app developed by nonprofit the Commons Project, called CommonPass, has also gotten some attention.  It’s being tested by airlines for people to share their lab test or vaccination records before they board international flights, and was also used by truck drivers in East Africa, where several countries require a negative test before crossing between borders.

CommonPass said users’ health information does not leave their phone, and that the app merely displays whether they meet that country’s screening requirements.

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