Apple responds to false Facebook claims about contact tracing update in iOS 13.5

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Nhs Hero (Image credit: Stephen Warwick/iMore)

What you need to know

  • Hysterical myths regarding Apple's exposure notification have started appearing on Facebook.
  • Some users have taken to sharing screenshots of iOS 13.5, warning friends that it will automatically allow authorities to track their locations and who they meet.
  • The posts have been fact-checked by Facebook, and Apple has released a response to Reuters.

Apple has issued a statement in response to several false posts on Facebook regarding the exposure notification feature in iOS 13.5.

As Reuters reports:

Users on social media are sharing a screenshot of the iOS 13.5 update saying that its installation will automatically allow authorities to track phone users' locations and who they've met with. **While the screenshot and update are authentic, the Facebook posts' interpretations of it are misleading and lack context. **

Several posts cited by Reuters from Facebook (and it would be Facebook), reveal a severe misunderstanding of the technology and fearmongering. One user wrote:

Make sure Automatic iPhone updates are OFF if you do not want get iOS 13.5.It allows Apple to automatically turn CONTACT TRACING AND REPORTING ON.Probable cause to test your family for COVID can be established, without your consent, if your phone enters 'proximity' of a person with COVID.

Another wrote:

If you have an iPhoneDO NOT UPDATE TO THIS VERSIONcontact tracing has begun and they will watch every where you go and who you cross paths with! This is the way of trying to contain you and this dumb virus!You will be quarantined by no choice of yours and all contacts in your phone along with everyone you have come in contact with will be notified

One post in a group titled #ReopenNY further stated:

Absolutely NOT! Turn off your automatic updates ASAP!! They are going to start tracking us! Anyone who's been tested and has a positive result has been marked! If you walk past any of these people you will be tagged as being contaminated! You think I'm kidding go to your updates right now on your phones!

Whilst the screenshots of iOS 13.5 themselves are legitimate, where these people got the rest of their information is anyone's guess. As a spokesperson for Apple has confirmed to Reuters, exposure notification cannot track your location. Furthermore, the tracing of contact between people using Low-energy Bluetooth can only be enabled if you download an app from a public health agency:

A spokesperson for Apple confirmed to Reuters via email that this recently released technology does not allow the government or tech companies to track individuals without consent. "You will still need to download an app from a public health agency to use the Exposure Notifications feature," the spokesperson told Reuters.

The sharing of a positive test result for COVID-19 also requires express user consent before this is shared. Users can also turn off exposure notifications at any time. In conclusion, the Reuters fact-checking team states:

Misleading. While the screengrabs of iOS 13.5 updates are authentic, to claim the government or tech companies would automatically track users is false. The new API lays the groundwork for future contact tracing apps that governments or public health authorities may create, which will need users' consent and will have a clear scope in terms of private information collection.

Thankfully, all of the posts cited by Reuters have been labeled by Facebook as potentially misleading. If you are at all concerned about contact tracing, or Apple and Google's Exposure notification feature, check out our recent in depth look at the technology.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9