Google Sneakily Installed COVID Tracking App on Android
Google is getting slammed with complaints for allegedly auto-installing a COVID tracking app on Android phones. Users in Massachusetts noticed that MassNotify, the state’s contact-tracing app, was installed on their devices without approval.
Google Admits to Automatically Installing COVID App
Massachusetts launched MassNotify on June 15, 2021, and users soon began to notice that the app was silently pushed to their devices.
Many users only realized that the app was installed after they were prompted to update it. Reports by users on Reddit only corroborate this, as do the scathing reviews of the app on the Google Play Store.
In a statement Google admitted that it “automatically distributed” the app:
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.
However, Google also said that “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.”
This means that although the app may have been installed without consent, its tracking features don’t turn on until users enable exposure notifications. Obviously, this isn’t much consolation.
Like most other COVID tracking apps, MassNotify alerts users about possible exposure to COVID-19. When the app is enabled, it uses Bluetooth to detect other users who have also opted in. If a user happens to test positive for COVID-19, they can alert the app, and in turn, the app will then notify any user that has crossed paths with them.
MassNotify was built using the Exposure Notification Express framework that Google and Apple developed, which was supposed to make it easier for states to create their own COVID tracking app. Massachusetts was remarkably late in unveiling its exposure notification app, as it’s the 29th state to deploy a COVID app. But with COVID cases down, and vaccine rates going up, the app may have already outlived its usefulness.
Has Google Gone Too Far?
Any app that tracks your location is bound to be controversial, especially if it’s automatically installed on your device. Regardless of whether the MassNotify app requires you to opt in to tracking, it’s still unsettling to have that app installed on your phone without consent.