Massachusetts ‘MassNotify’ COVID Android app auto-installed for some

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Bhawani Singh
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According to many user reports over the past day, MassNotify — the Massachusetts exposure notifications app  — was automatically installed on Android phones without warning. It’s not clear if this was an intentional decision or a bug, but exposure notifications did not also get enabled with the install.

Update: Google provided the following comment to 9to5Google. The company confirms the “automatically distributed” nature, but states that “COVID-19 Exposure Notifications are enabled only if a user proactively turns it on.”

“We have been working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to allow users to activate the Exposure Notifications System directly from their Android phone settings. This functionality is built into the device settings and is automatically distributed by the Google Play Store, so users don’t have to download a separate app. COVID-19 Exposure Notifications are enabled only if a user proactively turns it on. Users decide whether to enable this functionality and whether to share information through the system to help warn others of possible exposure.“

There are some key qualifiers surrounding this either accidental or intended rollout. The state of Massachusetts just launched the MassNotify app on Tuesday, June 15. It is slightly different from the first round of Exposure Notification applications where the state (either directly or via an authorized contractor) built and released a traditional app to the Play Store.

Rather, Massachusetts is using the “Exposure Notifications Express” system that Google and Apple announced last September. This approach sees health agencies submit a configuration file to the two companies with information on how/when notifications should be triggered, and next steps after getting an alert. The state also supplies assets like an agency logo and other text. It’s a faster way to get this form of contact tracing up and running.

You can tell Massachusetts is using Exposure Notifications Express given the longer manual setup/download process. After selecting where you are in Settings > Google > COVID-19 Exposure Notifications > Add another region, states (like California) that built their own app have it directly surfaced to the user.

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