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Debunked: No, contact tracing apps have not been installed on every Android phone

The Department of Health confirms that the tracing app won’t be made mandatory.

A POST ON an Irish Facebook page claims that all Android phones have had Covid-19 contact tracing apps installed on them.

The post, which is a screenshot of another Facebook post, claims that the apps are on the phones due to what are known as “exposure notifications”.

The post details how users can disable this function, and tells others to check their phones for the setting.

It has been shared 67 times since it was first posted on 31 May. 

Android_factcheck The post claims a tracing app has been installed on all Android devices

Android-factcheck-1 The post attached this image from another Facebook group

What the Facebook post describes is how to disable diagnostics – which are device and app usage data – from being sent to Google. The presence of exposure notifications does not mean that a contact tracing app is installed on your phone. 

Exposure Notifications

The post alleges that all Android phones have had Covid-19 tracing apps placed on them, via a system known as exposure notifications.

Exposure notifications are a tool currently being developed by Google and Apple to support governments and public health authorities who are developing tracing apps.

The notifications mean that anyone who has a contact tracing app on their phone will be sent a notification if they’ve likely been exposed to Covid-19.

While both Google and Apple are offering the use of this system, neither company will be involved in the development of contact tracing apps. 

The system works through generating a random ID for every person using a contact tracing app, which changes every 15-20 minutes to prevent a users’ location from being tracked.

These random IDs would be transferred between phones via Bluetooth, with contact tracing apps keeping a list of anyone a user meets who also has the app installed. 

This list would then be referenced with a list of Covid-19 patients and if any match, a notification would be sent to the pone. This would provide information from public health authorities as to what to do next. 

However, exposure notifications cannot do this unless a contact tracing app is installed.

Exposure notifications are also only activated if a contact tracing app is installed. 

An Irish contact tracing app is currently in development and began field testing at the start of June. It is not yet available for the general public, however.

The Department of Health confirmed that the tracing app will not be placed on any phone automatically. 

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“The app will operate on a voluntary and fully opt-in basis,” said a spokesperson for the Department of Health.

***

There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie.  

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