Apple and Google block UK COVID app update for breaking data-sharing rules
Google and Apple have blocked an update to the UK government’s COVID-19 contact tracing app for breaching privacy terms, the BBC reports.
The update, which was expected to roll out in time with the lifting of national lockdown on Monday, would have requested users who tested positive for COVID-19 to upload their history of venue check-ins. The app, used in England and Wales, has long operated with a feature that allows users to check in to a shop, pub, restaurant, or other venue using a QR code — some are required by law to display official NHS QR code posters and collect contact details, while others are encouraged.
“The deployment of the functionality of the NHS COVID-19 App to enable users to upload their venue history has been delayed,” a Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson confirmed to Mashable. “This does not impact the functionality of the app and we remain in discussions with our partners to provide beneficial updates to the app which protect the public.”
The NHS COVID-19 app, which is run by the Department of Health and Social Care, operates using “exposure notification” technology developed by Apple and Google. This “allows the app to send you alerts, using random IDs, when you’ve been near another app user who tests positive for coronavirus,” according to the NHS website. “This technology has been developed to find people you’ve been near while protecting your privacy and identity.”
However, as the BBC notes, all health authorities who signed up to use this “exposure notification” technology were required to agree not to collect location data through contract tracing apps — and allowing users to upload their venue check-in history would be in breach of these rules.
As it stands now, the app uses Bluetooth to record the distance between your phone and others that have the app installed. “This data will remain only on your phone. It cannot be seen or used by anyone, unless you choose to share it,” reads the NHS site. If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, you can use the app to inform the NHS, which will then send an anonymous notification to anyone else using the app who you’ve been in contact with recently. Official NHS advice on next steps will also be sent to those people.
According to , a tech-focused joint unit of NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care, the app “does not collect personally identifiable data from users. Users will always remain anonymous. The anonymous data collected by the NHS COVID-19 App will only ever be used for NHS care, management, evaluation and research.”
The app is currently available for iOS and Android without the blocked update.
Mashable has reached out to Google and Apple for comment.