Telecoms are sneaking ‘stay home’ messages onto customers’ smartphones

Some mobile phone operators, including Vodafone and Orange S.A., have started inserting coronavirus-related public health suggestions to stay indoors onto customers’ smartphones in recent days, using the small snippet of text that typically accompanies the connection signal symbols in the top left of a phone screen.

According to social media consultant Matt Navarra, who began posting and retweeting examples to his Twitter account on Tuesday afternoon, messages are appearing on the phones of customers in Germany, courtesy of UK-based telecom Vodafone.

According to a wave of replies to Navarra’s initial tweet, similar messages are showing up all over the world, too. Users have replied with screenshots of their own showing various versions of “stay home” in a number of different languages.

That includes Romania (“Stamacasa”); Peru (“YoMeQuedoEnCasa”), Turkey (“EvdeKal”), and Indonesia (“DiRumahAja”). And people in Belgium, France, India, and Nigeria are reportedly seeing either English versions of the phrase or versions in a native language, depending on the telecom.

The messages appear to show up in some markets only when you switch off Wi-Fi, as Nevarra said was the case in Germany. But that is not always a requirement to see the message, as you can see from the Peru example below:

It’s not clear whether this is a concerted effort from multiple telecoms, or rather one company decided to take the lead and others have followed. But it’s an unprecedented use of the small but vital screen space telecoms do have control over to actual promote the a public health benefit that could save lives in the weeks and months to come.