A post with a COVID-19 fear-mongering message has gone viral in the last few days. The message conveys that Google and Apple have sneakily installed COVID-19 virus tracking on people’s phones. The message is invalid, and the origin of the rumor is yet to be known. 

The recent Exposure Notification API is a joint effort by Google and Apple that offers to alert people if they have been close to a COVID positive person while preserving privacy. The text message has reportedly been reposted a thousandfold. 

The truth is that the feature was recently introduced into iOS 13.5. Google Play Services add the feature to new Android phones as well. Google and Apple reiterated that the feature is not a part of some conspiracy, neither is it related to tracking COVID-19.

Here is the message: 

“So, did you know that when everyone was having ‘phone disruptions’ earlier ths week, they were adding COVID-19 Trackers to our phones! If you have an Android phone, go under Settings, then GOOGLE settings and it’s there. If you have an iPhone, go to settings, privacy, then health. It’s there. Check it out. Sneaky. Yes it is off at the moment but under the circumstances who knows if they will not turn it on automatically or make it so that you have to or your phone won’t work properly! Call me suspicious.” 

The purpose of the Exposure Notification API has been well documented and explained in the settings screen. The feature shares identifiers through Bluetooth and no personal location or information is shared. 

Another false claim that the viral message makes is that the feature can be turned on without the user’s knowledge or consent. The truth of the matter is that for users to activate the feature, they will have to download a government-approved app in their respective countries. 

Once you download a government-approved app, you will receive a notification, after which you can confirm the activation if you wish.