Apple and Google’s ‘Exposure Notifications System’ works on your phone only if you opt for it

A message is being shared widely on social media with a claim that Apple and Google have inserted COVID-19 sensor (tracker) into every phone illegally which can track people. Let’s fact-check the claim made in the post.

The archived version of the post can be found here.

Claim: COVID-19 sensor inserted into everyone illegally by Apple and Google which can track people.

Fact: While it is true that Apple and Google have jointly developed and rolled out the ‘Exposure Notifications System’ which uses Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of COVID-19 through contact tracing, it does not track everyone freely. The system remains ‘off’ unless the user opts for it and one can opt-out of it anytime. It is one’s choice whether to accept it or not, so there is no illegal coercion. Also, it does not collect or use location data. Hence the claim made in the post is MISLEADING.

On looking in the ‘Settings>Google’ section on any Android phone (Also, on iPhone), one can find the option – ‘COVID-19 exposure notifications’. In it, it can be read that a participating app is required to turn on COVID-19 exposure notifications and that it uses Bluetooth technology. When searched for information on that option, it was found that Apple and Google have jointly developed and rolled out the ‘Exposure Notifications System’ which uses Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of COVID-19 through contact tracing. The related documents can be found on Google and Apple websites.

In the below gif (taken from Google website), one can see how the technology works.

It can be seen in the documents on the Google and Apple websites that the system does not track everyone freely. The system remains ‘off’ unless the user opts for it and one can opt-out of it anytime. It is one’s choice whether to accept it or not, so there is no illegal coercion. Also, it does not collect or use location data.

It can also be read that, in the first phase, ‘both companies will release application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow contact tracing apps from public health authorities to work across Android and iOS devices, while maintaining user privacy.’ And, in the second phase, ‘this capability will be introduced at the operating system level to help ensure broad adoption, which is vital to the success of contact tracing. After the operating system update is installed and the user has opted in, the system will send out and listen for the Bluetooth beacons as in the first phase, but without requiring an app to be installed’. More detailed information can be found here and here.

To sum it up, Apple and Google’s ‘Exposure Notifications System’ works on your phone only if you opt for it.

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The story first appeared here