COVID-19 Exposure Notification System on Phones – Facts to Calm You

Over the past few days, social media has been buzzing with a widely shared message in many countries, including Ghana, purporting that an app or a spying software has been added on people’s mobile devices “to track” their phones.

The panic induced by the information has led many to suspect governments across the world want to steal their personal data or to spy on them, that hackers have infiltrated their devices and have installed malware on them.

The message shared mostly on WhatAspp and Facebook reads:  “So when everyone was having “phone disruptions” earlier this week, they were adding COVID-19 Trackers to our phones. If you have an Android phone, go under Settings, then GOOGLE settings and it’s there. If you have an iPhone, go to Settings, Privacy then Health”.

Fact-checkghana.com verified the information and can confirm that Andriod and Apple have actually rolled out the feature on phones.

Andriod added the system as part of its update on the Google app, and Andriod users can check the existence of the system on their devices by going to Settings > Google and click on COVID-19 exposure notifications.

On iPhones, it was added as part of the iOS 13.5 update, and users can check it by going to Settings > Privacy > Health under COVID-19 Exposure Logging.

Facts About the System

  1. It is not an app. In other words, it is FALSE to call it a tracker app.

As far back as May 20, 2020, Google and Apple had issued a joint statement on the system. The statement reads, “What we have built is not an app – rather public health agencies will incorporate API (application programming interface) into their own apps that people install. Our technology is designed to make these apps work better”.

Explanation: The API will only assist a COVID-19 tracker app any country chooses to develop for its citizens to install on their mobile devices. For example, in Ghana, the feature could help the COVID-19 Tracker App government launched back in April 2020 to work better if a person has installed the app on his/her mobile device.

  1. Since the system requires a COVID-19 tacker app to work on it as an API, a person will have to first choose to install a COVID-19 tracker app.
  2. The system requires users to turn on both the Bluetooth and Location on their devices, giving users the right to switch the system on or off on their devices.

 Facts About Privacy Issues

Google has these privacy assurances on the system:

You decide if and when to share your data.

  1. All of the Exposure Notification matching happens on your device, which means only you and your app know if you report having COVID-19 or been exposed to someone who has reported having COVID-19. Your identity is never shared with other users, Apple, or Google.
  2. When you download a public health authority app, you can opt in to use Exposure Notifications.
  3. If you have COVID-19, you can choose to share your random IDs with the app.
  4. To help prevent tracking, your phone’s random ID changes every 10-20 minutes.
  5. Your phone only stores random IDs from the last 14 days.
  6. The public health authority app is not allowed to use your phone’s location or track your location in the background.
  7. Only official public health authority apps can use the system.

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