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Verify: No, your phone is not secretly tracking you because of COVID-19

A new setting on Apple and Android phones actually provides extra security of your location information

ST. LOUIS — Contact tracing has been one of the most important elements in containing the coronavirus. 

Some health departments have used apps to track possible exposures, but is your phone tracking you without your knowledge? Some on social media want you to think so.

5 On Your Side viewer Laura Steinbruck saw a social media post claiming “a COVID sensor has been inserted secretly on your phone.”

The post said the information is in the setting of cell phones from Apple and Android.

"Don't turn it on because you will be tracked everywhere you go but once you update your phone it will automatically be put on our phones," the post claims.

Credit: Provided photo

And Laura's not the only viewer with questions.

Linda Agnew just wants the real story and asked the Verify Team, “what’s the purpose of COVID-tracking apps? Should I turn it on?”

The Verify Team checked with Dave Chronister, a privacy expert and the CEO of Parameter Security.

Chronister said the COVID-tracking apps are being used by some regional health departments. The app tracks your location. If you came into close proximity with a person who tests positive for COVID-19, you would be notified of your potential exposure to the virus. These apps are an attempt to use technology to speed up contact tracing.

Chronister said these apps have not been installed on your phone.

Here’s what he said has been installed on your phone.

In both Android and Apple phones, under settings, you'll see an option for "COVID-19 exposure logging.”

Chronister said this is not an app, but a layer of security Google and Apple developed together, to protect your information when you use a third party COVID-19 tracking app.

“It does not do anything other than (it’s) a conduit to ensure proper safety and protocols are followed for a COVID tracker. It is not utilized until a COVID app is installed, which is something you have to do manually,” Chronister said.

Chronister said the extra security does two things: It makes the location information anonymous when it is transmitted to the apps because it only identifies you and your phone as a set of numbers. Second, it prevents malicious apps or apps that aren’t properly secured from getting your location information.

We can Verify a COVID sensor has not been secretly installed on your phone.

Google and Apple added a framework to further protect your location information when you use a COVID tracking app. The framework that adds the extra security does absolutely nothing on your phone until you download a COVID tracking app and then turn the “COVID exposure logging” option on.

We checked with the head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force and he is not aware of any local health departments using a COVID tracking app.

If you have something you'd like us to verify, let us know through Twitter, Facebook, or by sending an email to verify@ksdk.com.