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An app that supposed to track Covid-19 infections and the people in contact with those infected was rolled out in Massachusetts with certain promises made. First, it was supposed to be consensual. Second, it was supposed to be transparent to the user. Third, it was not supposed to store personal data. All three of these lies have now been exposed, yet the app continues to automatically install itself on devises across the state.
MassNotify was authorized by Republican Governor Charlie Baker, who said this week: “As we embrace our new normal, MassNotify is a voluntary, free tool to provide additional peace of mind to residents as they return to doing the things they love.”
The only truthful part of that statement is that it’s free. They would never charge for government tracking installed on mobile devices. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually paid people to keep the app on their phones.
The more we dig into this app, the more draconian it appears to be. Claims are coming in by the hundreds that it’s automatically installing itself onto phones which can only be done through an order by the government, by phone manufacturers, or through firmware providers. Since there does not appear to be a way for the manufacturers to have coordinated with each other so swiftly, this order almost certainly came down from the Governor’s office.
According to The National Pulse:
The MassNotify app was developed in cooperation with both Apple and Google, and claims to work anonymously and “not track” users’ private information. This claim was made by Republican Governor Charlie Baker, who said this week: “As we embrace our new normal, MassNotify is a voluntary, free tool to provide additional peace of mind to residents as they return to doing the things they love.”
The app notifies users who have been near a person that tested COVID positive, and the tracking is conducted using the Bluetooth. The app claims that the tracking will be “completely anonymous, with no location tracking or exchange of personal information”. Furthermore, it promises to not share any location data or personal information with Google, Apple, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or other users.
At the time of this writing, there are 365 reviews for the app on Google’s Play Store with a cumulative score of one-star. Here are some of the reviews, preserved for posterity since Google will have these reviews removed or buried at some point in the near future:
“Callie M” wrote: “App automatically installed without consent. Weirdly it has no icon and I can’t find any way to open it and see if it could be useful. Bizarre that the state did something like this the very day the state of emergency ended, when over half of adults, myself included, are vaccinated. What info could possibly be necessary with this egregious level of invasiveness NOW? A year ago it would have made sense.”
“Lex Neva” wrote: “This installed silently on my daughter’s phone without consent or notification. She cannot have installed it herself since we use Family Link and we have to approve all app installs. I have no idea how they pulled this off, but it had to involve either Google, or Samsung, or both. Normal apps can’t just install themselves. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but this doesn’t count as “voluntary”. We need information, and we need it now, folks.”
To this reviewers point, installing apps on phones with parental controls turned on is no easy feat. Samsung may have been able to do it, but it is more likely Google pushed it through firmware rather than the Play Store to circumvent blocks like parental control apps.
Apparently, the push is not absolute as it was detected by a particular privacy app, according to this reviewer.
William McIntosh wrote: “App automatically installed without my consent overnight, and there’s no app icon to indicate anything new was added. Lucky that Netguard caught it. I do not want this.”
Steve Corum wrote: “Big brother. Why did this auto install without my permission? Since when does the state have the right to push software unauthorized to MY phone? And why do it now that the state of emergency just ended. I don’t know if I am more angry at MA, or Google for modifying Android to allow this kind of thing. Fortunately it can be uninstalled….”
Simon X Camilo wrote: “I never opted in or consented to have this app installed on my device, and it’s installed on my device. If privacy is a priority, this app should not be installed by default on android devices without consent. If it’s not and you don’t care, you rather put a priority on everyone having this app, then ignore this review.”
Gary Bergmann claimed the app reinstalls after being uninstalled: “When an app self-downloads and installs itself, and gives itself full permission to utilize all device functions, I don’t care how good the app is, I’m going to uninstall it as many times as it reinstalls itself.”
Thomas Gallant was particularly upset: “App installed without my knowledge or consent. How dare they install something on my phone. Thank God I came here to Google Play and saw that it was installed. Couldn’t find a icon to uninstall it so I had to go into settings then apps to uninstall it. Hey Massachusetts, if you want to invade something, how about you invade my bank account and deposit a few hundred billion dollars into it. Wish I could give zero stars. If they can do this, what else are they doing without my knowledge and consent. If Massachusetts posted about the app thru advertisement or even sent me a text I would have installed it, but to be sneaky and install it without my knowledge and consent and not have a icon on top of it. UNINSTALLED!!!!! —> Google, your at fault too for allowing it to be installed like this. You talk about privacy and security. FUBAR!!!!!”
Even if we ignorantly disregard the efficacy of contact tracing, which most doctors feel is now irrelevant considering the mass exposure of the disease to the general population, we cannot dismiss the fact that the data — YOUR data — is being stored somewhere. How many times do we have to hear “oops” from Google, Apple, the NSA, or anyone else who gets caught storing data that’s supposed to be deleted before we realize it’s invariably lip service?
It’s going to take more than negative reviews to get the attention of Charlie Baker and anyone else involved in this attack on our privacy. Big Brother is, indeed, watching.
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JD Rucker – EIC