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Have Apple, Google Silently Installed COVID-19 Tracker on Your Phone? Here’s What You Need to Know

A message circulated on WhatsApp claims that a COVID-19 exposure sensor has been installed on every single Android and iPhone device.

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Have Apple, Google Silently Installed COVID-19 Tracker on Your Phone? Here’s What You Need to Know

Apple and Google have built a COVID-19 tracing system that is aimed to help governments build apps around

Highlights
  • The message is circulating on WhatsApp
  • Android does have a "COVID-19 exposure notifications" setting
  • However, neither Google nor Apple have installed any app to track you

Several people are forwarding a message on WhatsApp and social media platforms claiming that a COVID-19 exposure sensor has been silently “inserted into every phone.” The message is actually referring to the COVID-19 contact tracing system that Apple and Google have jointly built to enable exposure notification on both Android and iPhone devices. However, this doesn't mean that a tracker has been installed to track your location or any other details.

As per the message that has widely spread on WhatsApp, the COVID-19 exposure sensor has been installed on every single Android and iPhone device. The message says that it becomes functional once Bluetooth is switched on. You'll find similar messages on platforms including Facebook and Twitter as well.

The message is notably a half-truth as although both Apple and Google are working on the COVID-19 contact tracing solution, an app hasn't been installed on your smartphone without your permission. The claim that the app has been downloaded on your device is incorrect, as highlighted by UK's fact-checking organisation Full Fact.

There is indeed the debut of a new service in the Google settings menu on Android devices that is meant for “COVID-19 exposure notifications.” However, upon tapping that service, you'll find that Google hasn't installed any new app on your phone silently. You'll, in fact, need a participating app to turn on the newly available COVID-19 exposure notifications. There are various governments that have built or are building participating apps using the new exposure notification system, though the Indian government isn't a part of that group.

google covid 19 exposure notifications setting screenshots gadgets 360 Google COVID 19 exposure notifications  Google  COVID 19

Google's "COVID-19 exposure notifications" setting doesn't work without a participating app

 

Similar is the case with iPhone as Apple added the COVID-19 Exposure Logging option to iOS 13.5 last month, but that also doesn't mean that an app or service has been installed silently on your device. You can't enable COVID-19 Exposure Notifications until you have a particularly app installed on your phone.

Basically, Apple and Google have provided the base framework on iOS and Android to enable the COVID-19 exposure notifications, however that framework in itself is useless with an app to utilise that.

Over time, Apple and Google do have plans to provide coronavirus-related contact tracing without requiring a dedicated app. That would still be an optional feature, though. Also, it is important to note that the current system in place doesn't do anything without your permission, and no one is able to install a COVID-19 tracker to your device remotely.


In 2020, will WhatsApp get the killer feature that every Indian is waiting for? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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Jagmeet Singh Jagmeet Singh writes about consumer technology for Gadgets 360, out of New Delhi. Jagmeet is a senior reporter for Gadgets 360, and has frequently written about apps, computer security, Internet services, and telecom developments. Jagmeet is available on Twitter at @JagmeetS13 or Email at jagmeets@ndtv.com. Please send in your leads and tips. More
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