US users in the state of Massachusetts say Android has automatically installed the corona tracing app MassNotify. Google confirms that the app is automatically distributed through the Play Store and that it has worked with the government on this.
It concerns the MassNotify app, which, like other corona tracing apps, uses Google’s Exposure Notifications framework. According to 9to5Google, however, this concerns the Express variant of this framework, in which governments do not have to develop an app, but must provide certain information to Google. These are files that indicate when notifications should be triggered, and what the user should do after receiving a notification, logos and texts. This Express method should allow governments to set up corona tracing apps faster.
This means that MassNotify is not a ‘traditional’, separate corona tracing app but works within the Exposure Notifications system in the settings of the smartphone. Users therefore do not see a MassNotify app in, for example, the home screen of the smartphone. The app is therefore not easy to uninstall like other apps, users have to navigate to the Play Store page of the app to be able to uninstall it here. The app can also be removed within the Exposure Notifications settings.
Normally, that app should only be downloaded if users give permission via the Covid-19 Exposure Notification program, notes a Reddit user. Several users respond that they have not given permission for this and that the app is still installed. Also on the Play Store page, users indicate that they have not given permission to install the app.
To 9to5Google, among others, Google indicates that it has collaborated with the Department of Health of Massachusetts for the functionality. “The functionality is built into the smartphone’s settings and is automatically distributed through the Google Play Store, so users don’t have to download a separate app,” the company wrote. Google emphasizes that users must first give their consent before the MassNotify functionality is activated and information is shared. Just because the app is installed does not mean that it is immediately active.