How to Disable Google and Apple’s COVID-19 Notifications on Your Phone

Many people are now asking how to disable the COVID-19 contact-tracing app framework of Apple and Google.

My social media channels were buzzing with the same message when I awoke this month to discover that both Apple and Google had installed a COVID-19 tracking application to my iPhones and Android phones without my permission. The truth was quite different from the claims made, as is often the case with viral threads flooding social media networks.

In an effort to explain what was going on, I published a fact checking article that same day: Have Apple and Google uploaded a COVID-19 tracking app to your phone? The Facts Behind The Furor. It is clear that neither Apple nor Google had uploaded any app to smartphones without their permission. No automatic or stealthy installation of tracking apps had occurred.

The article went viral, and it has been viewed over one and a million times. The article also generated a lot of feedback via emails and direct messages. Most of it was from people who wanted to know how to disable or delete the “tracking app” on their phones right now.

Do you have a COVID-19 tracking application on your phone?

Okay, let’s clear this up: The COVID-19 Exposure Notification Framework that was included in both Android platform updates and iOS platform updates is NOT an app. It is an API (application programming interface) that allows tracking or contact tracing apps to function correctly once they have been installed.

As an Android user, I am told that I need to install or finish setting-up the app in order for the notifications to be activated. Apple and Google published a joint statement on May 20. It stated that “What we have built is not an application – rather, public health agencies will integrate the API into their apps that people install.”

If you don’t have an official government or state tracking app installed, then there is nothing to be concerned about. You might think so, but not everyone will agree with you. My mailbox perfectly illustrates this point. Twitter was even used to gauge people’s opinions on installing and using an Apple COVID-19-based tracking app. It’s impossible to prove statistical validity with only 231 people participating in my poll. But that’s beside what’s important.

It was clear that it confirmed what I knew: that opinions are split on this issue. 40.7% said yes, 46.8% said no, and 12.6% were still undecided.

Avira has found that 71% of Americans will not download such an app. This includes 88% of people over 55 and 84% of healthcare workers. Privacy was closely followed by a false sense security.

This is in line with the responses from my small sample. Many in the no camp were concerned about what governments would do with their data, or if the technology used was even effective. It is obvious that any system of this nature must have public support in order to be effective. “User adoption of these apps is key to success,” said the joint Apple-Google statement. “We believe these strong privacy protections will also be the best way to encourage their use.”

In a nutshell: The decentralized exposure notification system

How does the exposure notification system work in this Apple/Google decentralized model? Random IDs are exchanged via Bluetooth between your phone, and other phones that have opted in to it. These random IDs are saved on your phone, and not shared with any central databases server.

If that is not the case, someone with COVID-19 is diagnosed and shares this information with the official contact trace app. The ID beacons for the last 14 days are uploaded to a central server. This allows matching users to be notified about the exposure, if they have also opted into it.

This system doesn’t track your location. It only tracks the devices with which you are in contact. It does not share user identities with other apps, or with Apple and Google.

To prevent contact tracing and tracking, your random ID is updated every 10 to 20 seconds. These IDs are then deleted after 14 days.

“All exposure notification matching takes place on your device. This means that only you, your app, and you know if your report has COVID-19 been reported or if you have been exposed to anyone who has reported COVID-19,” according Google. The same Google statement stated that the “public health authority app isn’t allowed to use your smartphone’s location or track you in the background.”

It is worth noting that Bluetooth ID beacon activation will be possible after an operating system update in the next months. This will not require the installation of another app. An Apple and Google exposure notification FAQ stated that if a match is found, the user will be notified and asked to download an official app. This will again be opt-in and all of the requirements from before apply.

How to disable the Apple and Google COVID-19 exposure notification

You can disable or delete exposure notification frameworks if you decide contact tracing is not something you want to do.

However, you won’t be notified if COVID-19 has been potentially exposed if exposure notifications are disabled. Only you can decide if it is worth the risk. The flip side is that you may also expose others to the infection.

First, you don’t have to disable exposure notifications. They aren’t enabled by default. The exposure notification framework is only available if you have an official tracking app installed and consented to the notification system. It will remain an opt-in feature, even if or when it is made part of the operating systems without the need to have a separate app installed.

Google stated that you can disable exposure notifications in your Android smartphone settings and uninstall the official health app if one was installed previously. COVID-19 exposure notifications, and you can toggle them on or off from there. Delete.

Apple stated that users have the choice to use the technology. Users can uninstall the contact tracing app and turn off exposure notification in Settings. The toggle for exposure log is disabled by default in iOS 13.5 or later. If you have installed an officially authorized app and opted into exposure notification use, then you need to go to Settings|Privacy|Health from where you can toggle them on or off. The same settings page can be used to delete exposure logs that are kept for 14 days, just like Android devices.

In both cases, you will not be notified if COVID-19 has been administered to you.

Why is it a bad idea to uninstall the exposure notification framework

You should not follow any guides that claim to show how to remove the framework. You can roll back to an older version of the operating systems and disable automatic updates to stop any future updates. Unpatched vulnerabilities can be exploited by attackers in Android and iOS. This is a terrible idea, especially for cybersecurity professionals.

If you are concerned about your privacy and want to disable COVID-19’s exposure notification capability, it is not a good idea to expose your device to possible attacks that could access your data.

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