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Coronavirus

Facebook hoax spreading about contact tracing, don’t fall for it

Facebook has been a breeding ground for misinformation and conspiracy theories for some time now. The insular nature of Facebook groups as well as the company’s unwillingness to fact-check posts make it easy for viral conspiracy theories to spread like wildfire.

This is especially dangerous during the COVID-19 era, as quack medical cures and prevention tips are prone to widespread sharing. Tap or click here to see what Facebook is doing in response to ads for fake coronavirus cures.

Oftentimes, the most viral misinformation contains just enough truth to make other claims sound more convincing. And that’s exactly what’s happening thanks to a hoax circulating on Facebook that claims Google installed contact-tracing software on Android phones without permission. Here’s why Google isn’t actually using COVID-19 as an excuse to stalk you.

Half-truths and lies

If you’ve seen a viral Facebook post alerting you of Google’s nefarious attempts to track people via COVID-19 contact-tracing apps, you’re not alone. In the past few weeks, this claim has been circulating across Facebook groups and newsfeeds despite its lack of accuracy and nuance.

According to the post, Android users must remain vigilant about automatic sign-ups for Google’s COVID-19 “tracing app.” In addition to the warning, you’ll also see instructions on how to shut the service down, which additional posts and discussion on Facebook claims will keep your phone from “being tracked.”

It sounds almost too freaky to be true — and from a certain point of view, it actually is. Google has given Android users the ability to enroll in contact-tracing and COVID-19 exposure alerts in recent updates.

But what the viral post fails to recognize is that Google hardly needs a COVID-19 contact-tracing service to track what you do on the internet. Just having a Gmail account or Google Chrome is enough, really. Tap or click here to see what Google tracks about you, and how to turn it off.

What’s really going on with contact-tracing on Android?

Unfortunately for the Facebook hoaxers, Google’s program isn’t mandatory or automatic. You have to enroll in order to get the benefits of COVID-19 exposure alerts, and the system isn’t even fully deployed in most areas of the country just yet.

What’s more, Google’s contact-tracing system is no more an app than the settings menu on your Android device. In fact, it’s just another part of the operating system that exists as a framework for other applications to build off of.

Google and Apple recently partnered together in a widely-publicized effort to develop COVID-19 contact-tracing services for smartphones. The final product is the cross-platform exposure alert API, which allows third-party apps made by state and health officials to activate contact-tracing on smartphones. Tap or click here to see the story behind its development.

So not only do you need to download an app to use contact-tracing in the first place, iPhones are also privy to the same exposure notification platform. As of now, the Facebook post is sounding less like a conspiracy theory and more like the ramblings of an uninformed person.

If you want to actually use exposure notifications and contact tracing on your Android device, you’ll need to wait for your state or local health authorities to release the appropriate app for your area. Once it’s available, open the Settings app and tap Google, then toggle the COVID-19 exposure notifications to “on” if it isn’t already.

With a contact-tracing app installed and the toggle enabled, you’ll be informed the next time you cross paths with someone who has shared their positive diagnosis. Because the system works via encrypted Bluetooth signal exchanges, you don’t have to worry about doing anything manually. It all happens in the background — regardless of operating system.

And if you don’t want to bother with contact-tracing on Android, there’s very little you need to do. Just avoid downloading any contact-tracing apps and keep the switch toggled to Off.

It’s hardly the conspiracy the post claims it to be, but that’s Facebook for you.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, advice, or health objectives.

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