Update (2030ET): Google has responded (via the Epoch Times)
A number of Android phone users over the past weekend reported that a COVID-19 notifications system was automatically installed on their phones without warning or consent.
Google, in a statement to several news outlets, did not confirm or deny whether the “automatically distributed” system was installed without users’ consent, while noting that “COVID-19 Exposure Notifications are enabled only if a user proactively turns it on.”
“We have been working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to allow users to activate the Exposure Notifications System directly from their Android phone settings,” the tech giant said in a statement. “This functionality is built into the device settings and is automatically distributed by the Google Play Store, so users don’t have to download a separate app. COVID-19 Exposure Notifications are enabled only if a user proactively turns it on. Users decide whether to enable this functionality and whether to share information through the system to help warn others of possible exposure.”
In a 1-star review, one user wrote on Google Play that they “absolutely did not install this on my phone” and said it was “silently installed without any notification.”
Exposure Notifications “doesn’t have an app icon … you have to go through settings and view all apps,” according to the user. “This is a huge privacy and security overstep by [Gov. Charlie Baker] & Google.”
One woman described the program as “spyware,” alleged it “seems to want to track my location,” and noted that it uses Bluetooth.
“It’s pure madness that Play Services comes with this sort of backdoor. This is clearly what I would consider a deliberate … vulnerability,” opined one user on Hacker News.
There were also reports that another app called MassNotify was installed without users’ consent. MassNotify appears to be different than Massachusetts’ COVID-19 Exposure Notifications system.
Reports have noted that the Exposure Notifications program resides in the Android system Settings menu. Users can access it by going to Settings, then Google, then accessing the COVID-19 Exposure Notifications, where one can turn on tracking or report having COVID-19.
The Epoch Times has contacted the Massachusetts governor’s office and Google for comment.
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Americans in the state of Massachusetts with Android phones have accused Google of installing a COVID tracking app automatically without user consent.
The app tracks people’s movements and issues notification alerts if a possible exposure to COVID-19 happens.
Writing in the review section of the Google Play app store, one user noted that the app “Automatically installed without consent. It has no icon, no way to open this and see what it even does, which is a huge red flag… I think it’s spyware, phishing as the DPH (Department of Public Health).”
Another wrote “Force-installed with no authorization or approval. App is hidden on the device to prevent uninstallation. Government overreach and corporate complicity should never be tolerated.”
Another person described the app as an “unethical breach of privacy and a forceful misappropriation of personal property,” adding, “The degree to which my data is collected or distributed through it has not been disclosed neither in active nor inactive form… I can only conclude and caution others that it is disclosing your whereabouts and social contacts without permission.”
Many complained that the app had ‘force installed’ on their phones
Google issued a statement to 9to5Google, which does not addressing the claims that the app stealth installed on phones.
The statement reads:
We have been working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to allow users to activate the Exposure Notifications System directly from their Android phone settings. This functionality is built into the device settings and is automatically distributed by the Google Play Store, so users don’t have to download a separate app. COVID-19 Exposure Notifications are enabled only if a user proactively turns it on. Users decide whether to enable this functionality and whether to share information through the system to help warn others of possible exposure.
ARS Technica notes that there are two different versions of the Mass Notify app on the Play store, and that one only has around 1000 installs and no complaints that it auto-installed, where as the other has been slammed by people claiming they didn’t ask for it to appear on their phones and has over a MILLION installs. That is odd because only 6.8 million live in the State, and if 50% of them have Android phones (which they don’t) then around a third have supposedly downloaded the app themselves.
“Did they roll this out to every device in Massachusetts?” ARS Technica questions.
The report notes “Both apps are listed under the ‘MA Department of Public Health’ developer account, which—uh—does not exist? The link for the developer just 404s, which really does not inspire confidence in the app’s legitimacy.”
Others reported that the auto-installed version of MassNotify does not actually have app icon or a public health statistics UI, and only appears in the phone’s system settings under the title “Massachusetts Department of Heath.”
At best the rollout can be described as odd, and at worst a creepy attempt to stealthily track the movements of everyday Americans.
As we have previously noted, COVID tracking apps have been used by the State in China as an excuse to ramp up surveillance, in combination with the onerous social credit score system. There are signs that this system is being adopted by Western governments as a method of further controlling their populations.
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