Even creepier COVID tracking: Google silently pushed app to users’ phones

MA Division of Public Well being

Over the weekend, Google and the state of Massachusetts managed to make creepy COVID tracking apps even creepier by robotically putting in them on individuals’s Android telephones. Quite a few studies on Reddit, Hacker News, and in-app opinions declare that “MassNotify,” Massachusetts’ COVID monitoring app, silently put in on their Android machine with out person consent.

Google gave the next assertion to 9to5Google, and the corporate doesn’t deny silently putting in an app.

We’ve been working with the Massachusetts Division of Public Well being to permit customers to activate the Publicity Notifications System immediately from their Android telephone settings. This performance is constructed into the machine settings and is robotically distributed by the Google Play Retailer, so customers don’t must obtain a separate app. COVID-19 Publicity Notifications are enabled provided that a person proactively turns it on. Customers resolve whether or not to allow this performance and whether or not to share info by way of the system to assist warn others of attainable publicity.

Google’s assertion does not actually tackle the problem of auto-installing an app with out asking. The “performance” of COVID exposure-tracking apps are constructed into Google Play Providers as an API that authorities apps can use for his or her monitoring initiatives and might be “robotically distributed by the Google Play Retailer.”

That is nonetheless not the “MassNotify” app, although. Similar to each different state and nationwide COVID app, MassNotify supplies customers with an interface to report COVID publicity and think about well being statistics for his or her native inhabitants. If all of those customers by accident opted-in to COVID monitoring and forgot, we would count on an announcement from Google to outright deny an computerized app rollout. Google’s assertion doesn’t deny the silent set up, although, and as an alternative solely says COVID monitoring shouldn’t be enabled until customers flip it on.

COVID monitoring apps have been Massive Tech’s reply to the pandemic, with Google and Apple each constructing a contact-tracing platform into their cell working techniques. The thought is that if you happen to opt-in, your telephone’s Bluetooth can scan for different opted-in gadgets and hold an inventory of who you have been in touch with. If a type of individuals will get COVID and notifies the app, the monitoring system will alert everybody it has logged these days, letting them know that they could have been uncovered. Quite than run a worldwide monitoring system themselves, Google and Apple solely created a system API and app templates for governmental well being organizations to make use of. Within the US, this has meant each state must construct a COVID app.

MassNotify's reviews. Users love silently installed apps.

MassNotify’s opinions. Customers love silently put in apps.


Google and Massachusetts’ rollout of the app actually appears sloppy. There are two variations of the “MassNotify” app on the Play Retailer. One version doesn’t appear to have been silently put in, has just one,000+ installs, and boasts a ranking of 4.1 stars (out of 5). A second version—labeled “v3” within the package deal title—has been slammed with damaging opinions (1.1 stars as of publish time) with customers alleging it was robotically put in on gadgets; some customers even questioned if the app was malware. Each apps are listed below the “MA Division of Public Well being” developer account, which—uh—doesn’t exist? The hyperlink for the developer just 404s, which actually doesn’t encourage confidence within the app’s legitimacy.

Did Google roll this out to each Massachusetts machine?

Massachusetts took eternally to launch its COVID app, with MassNotify solely launching last week, months behind different states and at a time when most accountable persons are vaccinated. Regardless of this, extremely, the “v3” MassNotify app has over one million installs! The Play Retailer solely reveals set up numbers in tiers, so the “1,000,000+” label on MassNotify means “Greater than 1 million and fewer than 5 million,” which is the following tier up. Massachusetts solely has 6.8 million residents. The US smartphone set up base would put Android at round 50 percent of customers. Smartphone penetration is not at 100% of the inhabitants. In the event you robotically put in MassNotify on each Android machine in Massachusetts, you will not hit 5 million gadgets, in order that “1,000,000+” label is virtually the cap. Did they roll this out to each machine in Massachusetts?

With COVID vaccines available and masks mandates within the state lifting final month, it is arduous to think about Massachusetts residents have been so enthusiastic concerning the new COVID monitoring app that every one these individuals willfully put in the app. MassNotify is now the preferred COVID monitoring app on the Play Retailer. The COVID apps for California and New York, which each have no less than a six-month head begin on MassNotify, solely have 500,000+ installs every.

In the event you’re questioning “Can Google actually set up apps to an Android machine with out person enter?” the reply is “Can they ever!” Push installs are literally the one approach Google Play installs apps. If you open up the Play Retailer and press the set up button, you are really requesting that Google push you an app set up over Firebase Cloud Messaging. Customers can really view this in motion themselves by remote-installing an app from the Google Play web site on a desktop laptop. No one needs to be in entrance of your Android telephone to grant administrative privileges to something—the app simply installs as a result of Google has a 24/7 line of access to your machine. The actually “enjoyable” half is that Google can even distant unset up apps out of your telephone with out interplay, permitting the corporate to remotely nuke malware if issues ever get actually dangerous.

Final yr when this complete COVID monitoring app concept was being kicked round, one ballot discovered that half of Americans do not belief these COVID monitoring apps with their privateness. Selections like this usually are not serving to.

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