Social media is buzzing with complaints from people after apparently discovering that Apple or Google has suddenly uploaded a COVID-19 tracking app to their phone without permission. Here’s what actually happened.
If you have opened up your Facebook or Twitter apps only to be bombarded by messages from people warning that Apple or Google has suddenly and stealthily installed a COVID-19 tracking app to their phone, and you should check yours, then you are not alone.
I’m sorry to disappoint those readers looking forward to a good old rant about the state violating their right to privacy or expecting fuel to feed another conspiracy theory fire. Neither Apple nor Google have uploaded an app to your smartphone without your permission; no stealthy and automatic tracking app installation has taken place.
Yes, there is now an entry at the top of the Google settings on my Android smartphone, for example, that states: “COVID-19 exposure notifications.”
No, that does not mean an app has been installed. Indeed, if I were to click on that entry, it would take me to a screen that tells me I have to install or finish setting up a participating app to activate the exposure notifications.
So, what has been installed? This is a case of nothing to see here as all that’s happened in the last Android or iOS update is that the application programming interface (API) that will enable exposure notifications to work has been added. It’s not an app; it’s the framework within the operating system that will allow such an app to function once it becomes available and if you decide to install it.
Apple and Google published a joint statement about this back on May 20. “What we’ve built is not an app – rather public health agencies will incorporate the API into their own apps that people install. Our technology is designed to make these apps work better.”
To sum up, then: nobody can or will install a COVID-19 tracking app on your phone but you. At that point, you will have to agree to the various permissions the application requires to work effectively. As you were, nothing to see here.