No, Apple and Google Have Not Secretly Installed Contact Tracing Apps on Your Phone.
Recent social media posts (which I won’t link to, but you can easily find them by searching Twitter) claim that Apple and Google are installing contact tracking apps on your phone without your permission. The posts even provide compelling screenshots and links to claims from both companies that they are developing technology to help track contacts; this proof serves as proof that the mega-case hides apps on your phones and keeps track of wherever you go.
Look, it’s true that some early contact tracing apps have used shadowy data collection schemes , and there have been concerns about “contact tracing arrests” during recent protests. But rumors of hidden tracking features sneakily installed on your devices are untrue.
Let me put it bluntly: There are currently no hidden contact tracking apps on your iPhone or Android devices.
While some devices have been updated with dedicated options related to COVID-19 exposure tracking, all that has been added is the ability to track application contacts you set up an interface with the device at the system level so that they can send alerts and exposure notifications.
Forbes cybersecurity reporter Dave Winder tested this himself , and I have similar COVID-19-themed settings on my Pixel 3a XL. Not only are these settings turned off by default, but Google updates presenting them don’t install any unwanted location tracking apps on my device (and nothing gets installed even if I enable the setting; it only affects apps looking for these permissions.).
For now, the only way to display the contact tracking app on your phone is to manually download and install it and grant it permission to track your data. You probably never have to install it anyway if you don’t want to, as manual contact tracing works fine.
But even if you had the new contact tracking feature on your device, it would use GPS data and app activity that your phone and apps are already tracking. There are even ways to turn off such tracking features and delete the data that companies such as Apple , Google , Facebook and Twitter, of course, collect from you.
I’m not necessarily saying that you need to disable all of these features at once ; I’m just pointing out that we have some control over what data is tracked, where it goes and who can access it, not to mention which apps or devices we choose to use in the first place. As long as these capabilities are available, you don’t have to worry about whether your phone is spying on you during the worst global pandemic of the last century. I don’t blame people for worrying about the ubiquitous digital surveillance threat, but I don’t let those fears turn into false rumors.