Suit alleges Massachusetts health agency covertly installed phone spyware to track, combat COVID-19

The app does not appear on the phone's mobile screen and can only be found by going into the device's "settings."

Updated: November 18, 2022 - 9:37am

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The Massachusetts Public Health Department worked with Google to automatically and covertly install spyware on over 1 million residents' smartphones to fight COVID-19, a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit New Civil Liberties Alliance alleges.

Since June 2021, the health agency has secretly installed a COVID tracing and tracking app on one million Android phones in the state without obtaining search warrants, the class-action lawsuit states.

The app does not appear on the phone's mobile screen and can be found only by going into the device's "settings" and selecting "view all apps," so most users are unaware the app is on their phone. Additionally, when smartphone users delete the app, the health department apparently reinstalls it.

"This 'android attack,' deliberately designed to override the constitutional and legal rights of citizens to be free from government intrusions upon their privacy without their consent, reads like dystopian science fiction—and must be swiftly invalidated by the court," said Peggy Little, an attorney for the plaintiffs. 

The state health agency said: "MassNotify is a voluntary service and users can opt in or out at any time. MassNotify is not automatically turned on and will not be enabled unless you explicitly choose to opt in."

The Massachusetts Health Department did not immediately respond to request for comment.