Massachusetts state officials recently announced the launch of the “voluntary” MassNotify app, which monitors the spread of COVID-19 in the state. The only problem is the app appears to be installing itself on residents’ and their kids’ smartphones, unbeknownst to users, and without their consent.
The news creates a disturbing new dimension to privacy laws and even private property concerns as hundreds of users have reported their Android phones have had the app surreptitiously installed, without their prior knowledge.
“Thank you MA/Google for silently installing #MassNotify on my phone without consent. But I have a request: Can you also silently install an app that makes my phone explode and k*ll me?” wrote Twitter user Justin Jacobs. Others have taken to the Android app store to register their complaints.
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.
Now, nearly 300 users have reviewed the instrusive app on the Android app store, leaving it with a one star rating.
User 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.”
The app is also managing to install itself despite parental restrictions, as illustrated by user Lex Neva:
“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.”
Steven Nassor wrote: “Installed itself without consent, my rights have been violated and feel as if I’ve been spied upon.”
The implementation process of the app clearly contradicts the notion of voluntary participation, as well as raising concerns as to what else might be installed remotely without users’ knowledge.
Many in the state had no idea the app had been pushed to their devices until they got a notification. The app also appears to be reinstalling itself once forcibly removed by users.