Smartphone users in some parts of the US have reported that Google has apparently
installed a Covid-19 tracking app on their Android devices (opens in new tab) without seeking their consent.
The MassNotify app is created by Massachusetts’ Department of Public Health, and is the state’s official COVID-19 automated contact tracing notification system.
“MassNotify is a voluntary service and users can opt in or out at any time. Users decide whether to enable MassNotify and whether to share information through the system to help warn others of possible exposure,” reads the app’s Play Store page.
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Although the page doesn’t say that the app has been forced installed into the devices of all Massachusetts residents, it does note that “the presence of this app on the phone does not indicate that MassNotify has been enabled.”
Spooked by the sudden appearance of the app on their devices, several residents added unflattering reviews for the app on the Play Store (opens in new tab), calling it everything from bloatware to spyware (opens in new tab).
“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. Per the notifications it runs on Bluetooth which is a major battery drain, and seems to want to track my location. Major privacy violation if you ask me,” wrote a resident (opens in new tab) giving the app a single-star rating.
When Bleeping Computer confronted Google (opens in new tab), the company confirmed what’s already written on the Play Store; the app is installed but not enabled.
"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,” Google told Bleeping Computer.
Why the state would assume that its residents would interact with an app they didn’t install, and toggle a button to enable tracking their movements, is anybody’s guess.
The disconcerting appearance of the app on their device, and the seemingly cumbersome uninstallation procedure, doesn’t bode well for the state’s contact tracing initiative.
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