Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Android Contact Tracing App Installed Without Consent

Hiawatha Bray (Hacker News):

A nonprofit law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for allegedly working with Google to secretly install COVID-tracing software onto as many as a million smartphones.


Dozens of states issued such apps, including Massachusetts. But few people voluntarily used the Massachusetts version. According to the lawsuit, the state health department worked with Google to develop a version that was installed on all Android phones, without permission from the phone owner.


Android owners are given the choice of whether to activate the Massachusetts app. But the suit alleges that the app transmits and receives data through its Bluetooth radio even when it’s not activated. This data can be accessed by Google and by a variety of apps installed on Android phones, the suit claims. If enough data is collected from enough phones, data scientists can “de-anonymize” the information and figure out the identities of the phone users.

Jessica Lyons Hardcastle:

The Massachusetts app, according to the legal complaint, gave the public health department, Google, application developers, and others access to the device owners’ media access control addresses, wireless network IP addresses, phone numbers, contacts and emails, thus making these parties privy to the owners’ personal information, location and movement. If Android users discovered and deleted the COVID-19 tracer, the state’s health agency would reinstall it on their devices, the lawsuit alleges.


“In sum, DPH installed spyware that deliberately tracks and records movement and personal contacts onto over a million mobile devices without their owners’ permission and awareness,” the lawsuit claims [PDF]. “On knowledge and belief, that spyware still exists on the overwhelming majority of the devices on which it was installed.”


1 Comment RSS · Twitter

This is inexcusable. Both the fact Massachusetts thought this would be a good idea and legal, and the fact Google helped them. Totalitarian.

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