The facts about the Covid-19 app on Android and iOS mobile phones

Photo credit: theverge.com
Photo credit: theverge.com+

It is expected that most people are wary of their privacy. That is why a viral WhatsApp message suggests a tone of caution, alerting Android and iOS mobile phone users of an inserted Covid-19 tracker in their phones found in the settings section.

The message reads:

Attention

COVID-19 sensor has been inserted into every phone. Apparently 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 setting and it’s there. If you have an iPhone, go to settings, privacy, then health, It’s there but not yet functional.”

Please check and confirm.

The message has also been shared on other platforms.

Verification

Dubawa followed the directives in the message and found a COVID-19 Exposure Notifications feature found in the Settings and Google Settings section for Android users, and in the Settings, Privacy and Health section for iPhone users.

As the viral message indicated that the feature is not yet functional, the feature shows that it is turned off till the user’s Bluetooth is enabled. Additionally, there needs to be an installation or finishing of a participating app before the Covid-19 exposure notifications feature is turned on.

Further, as the message stated of a sensor and tracker, the feature indicates that the app installed ‘can notify you if you’ve been near someone who reported having COVID-19’

An example from an Android phone shows in the photos below:

Source of photos: Forbes

What is the Covid-19 Exposure Notifications?

In April 2020, two technology companies Apple and Google announced a partnership of introducing a Bluetooth enabled technology that would assist governments and health authorities with contact tracing as a measure to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

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Google explains that,

“Exposure Notifications on your smartphone enables contact tracing apps to send you a notification if you’ve likely been exposed to Covid-19. Contact tracing apps will be developed by your local public health authority, not by Google or Apple”

Apple further explains that this is “to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms.’’

They added that “This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities’’

Both technology companies by detailing how the feature operates here and here, have also stated that this feature is built to protect users’ privacy and security. These include settings such as users’ control over whether or not they receive exposure notifications, the feature’s inability to track users’ location and the identity of users remaining unseen by Google, Apple and other users.

Photo source: Forbes

As explained by the tech companies, Covid-19 Exposure Notifications is not an application; however, it simply notifies phone users once the feature is turned on, and it is also only effective when a corresponding Covid-19 tracking application from the users’ government public health authority is installed.

Thus, for the Ghanaian context, for instance, the Covid-19 Exposure Notifications feature is built to be enabled by the Ghana Covid-19 Tracker app, once the app is downloaded.

Dubawa spoke to the Regional Director of National Information Technology Agency (NITA), Richard Okyere-Fosu, who further clarified that this in-built Covid-19 Exposure Notifications feature on phones is totally different from the Ghana Covid-19 Tracker app launched by the Ministry of Communication in April 2020.

”This is different for the Covid-19 Tracker app. With our Covid-19 Tracker, you have to download it first,” Mr Okyere-Fosu stated.

Conclusion

The viral message alerting Android and iPhone users of an inserted Covid-19 tracker is partly true. While it is true that a Covid-19 Exposure Notifications feature has been jointly designed by Apple and Google for its mobile phone users, the feature is by itself not a tracker. It is only functional by downloading a corresponding Covid-19 tracking application, as well as enabling Bluetooth on the smartphone. The feature is built to assist government and health authorities with contact tracing by notifying mobile phone users of anyone who was reported to have Covid-19.



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