FACT CHECK: Have Apple, Google Silently Installed COVID-19 Tracking App on Your Phone?

VERDICT: False

CLAIM: Many users of smartphones across Nigeria have been raising concerns with the claim that Apple or Google has inserted a COVID-19 tracking sensor to their phone without permission. People are forwarding the message on WhatsApp and Facebook and Twitter, warning that an application (App) has been developed to monitor people.


FACT:


Google recently added a new feature which reads “COVID-19 exposure notifications “. This new message appears when you go to the Google Settings on your Android smartphone, like the image below.

However, the new settings are not an App installed on people’s phones to track them or a COVID-19 sensor as you may have read on Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp messenger.


The Android or IOS are operating systems which host different apps on a device. Just like other updates on the device, what Apple and Google just did is to update their Operating Systems with the framework which allows such an app to function once it becomes available and if you decide to install it.


What you see once you try to use the search engine is the setting for the App, which are in development across the world.


According to the framework developed by the Google and Apple, you will have the option to download and install the App yourself from the respective app store and permit it just like you do with other apps installed on your devices.


You cannot enable COVID-19 Exposure Notifications until you have a particularly app installed on your phone and this cannot be activated until an app – which is not yet available – is downloaded.


Available information to CDD fact-checkers shows that the Nigerian Government has not announced the development of such an app for contact tracing using the new exposure notification system in the country as claimed.


The Lead, COVID-19 Rumour Response Team of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Abiodun Egwuenu, said the centre does not have such tracing App.


Egwuenu explained that the App used by the NCDC for contact tracing is the Surveillance Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System (SORMAS).


SORMAS is an open-source mobile eHealth System that processes disease control and outbreak management procedures and early detection of outbreaks through real-time digital surveillance, including peripheral health care facilities and laboratories.

She further told CDD fact-checkers that data are input directly by officials as state and Local Government Area heal officers have access to the App.

WAS IT DONE SECRETLY?
That is not the case. On 10 April 2020, Google and Apple jointly announced that they would integrate functionality to support such Bluetooth-based apps directly into their Android and iOS operating systems.

In the announcement, both companies promised to ‘’release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores.”
The tech companies said, as a follow up to that, they will ‘’work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms.

This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate’’ but emphasized that the solution is available for those who decide to opt-in and will be synergy with government health authorities.


The full announcement can be seen here Apple and Google partner on COVID-19 contact tracing technology.

CONCLUSION
Google and Apple have not secretly installed a COVID-19 sensor on people’s phones. What they have done is to create the framework on their operating system for such an App to work, and in this case, every individual will have to download by yourself from their respective app stores.

After downloading an App, which will be provided by the health authorities, in the case of Nigeria, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and the Federal Ministry of Health.

You will be required to agree to the various permissions the application requires to work effectively.

CDD, therefore, urges members of the public to always verify all information before disseminating them.

You can also forward suspicious messages for verification at +2349062910568 or contact us on twitter @CDDWestAfrica.

#StopFakeNews #StopDisinformation