Android users in Massachusetts may automatically see a new state COVID-19 exposure notification app installed on their phone, according to a number of reports surfacing.
Google told 9to5Google that it has been working with the state’s public health department and that it is “automatically distributed by the Google Play Store.” However, Google said that even if the app is installed, it must be activated in order for it to work.
Massachusetts officially launched the MassNotify app June 15, making it the 29th state to do so, according to the Boston Globe.
If the app’s reviews are any indication of the reception of the automatic installation, then it is not going over well with the public. Currently, the Exposure Notification Setting Feature for the app has 832 reviews with an average one-star rating, with reviewers calling the tech “big brother” and “spyware.”
The way the new system works is that if a person tests positive, they will be contacted by their local health department or staff from the contact tracing initiative. The patient will get information and calls from the state while quarantining.
The COVID-19 positive patient then collaborates with the state groups to identify anyone with who they have been in close contact. The contract tracing service then calls or texts those identified and lets them know they have been exposed to the virus. The service does not reveal the identity of the COVID-19 positive patient in any of those interactions.
WHY IT MATTERS
Across the country, COVID-19 restrictions have lifted, as COVID-19 rates steadily decline due to increased vaccination rates. According to the CDC, as of June 22 the seven-day moving average number of cases was 11,282, which is one of the lowest rates since March 2020. The CDC reports that 65.5% of adults have at least one vaccination.
However, the virus has taken a major toll on the country. To date, there are over 600,000 deaths in the U.S. associated with COVID-19 and more than 33 million cases over the last year and a half. Additionally, an increasing number of variants are also emerging.
THE LARGER TREND
COVID-19 contract tracing efforts have been around since early on in the pandemic. In the spring of 2020, Google and Apple announced that they were teaming up on a contract tracing API system. The technology was aimed to help public health agencies deploy apps and tell people when they might have been exposed to COVID-19.
Several governments, including Singapore, Denmark, India, France, Australia and the U.K. deployed contact tracing apps. The World Health Organization even pledged to help under-resourced countries get a contract tracing app.
The tools haven’t been without controversy. Qatar’s mandatory COVID-19 tracing app came into question after an Amnesty International investigation exposed a weakness in its configurations that left it open to cyberattacks. Amnesty International also said that Bahrain, Kuwait and Norway’s contact tracing tools are putting their citizen’s privacy at risk.
In April of 2020, the Ada Lovelace Institute in the U.K. warned of the technical limitations of contact tracing.