The Massachusetts Department of Health is facing a class action lawsuit for allegedly installing a tracking app on more than 1 million phones to carry out contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the lawsuit filed by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, the app showed a “brazen disregard for civil liberties” since the “spyware … deliberately tracks and records movement and personal contacts onto over a million mobile devices without their owners’ permission and awareness.”
The health department reportedly worked with Google to develop the app, which users could voluntarily download, beginning in April 2021. But most did not avail themselves of the option.
To increase usage, the lawsuit claims DPH “worked with Google to secretly install the Contact Tracing App onto over one million Android mobile devices located in Massachusetts without the device owners’ knowledge or permission,” which began June 15, 2021—a violation of both the state and U.S. Constitutions, NCLA argues.
According to the claims in the lawsuit, the app causes an Android cellphone to constantly connect and exchange data with other nearby devices via Bluetooth and create a record of those connections. This exchange process, the lawsuit explained, can make the time-stamped, stored data in person’s Android phone available to DPH, Google and application developers.
That data could include phone numbers and personal emails, the suit said.
"Those with access to the system logs can also use time stamped data… to determine the owner’s past contacts, locations and movement," it said. The lawsuit said plaintiffs believe the "spyware still exists on the overwhelming majority of the devices on which it was installed. (FOX Business)
While the app was not exclusive to Massachusetts, where it was offered in other regions it was done voluntarily.
"Massachusetts, however, is the only State to surreptitiously embed the Contact Tracing App on mobile devices that DPH locates within its borders, without obtaining the owners’ knowledge or consent," the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit comes as Google agreed to pay nearly $400 million to 40 states to settle an investigation into its location tracking practices.