Apple and Google ban update to contact tracing app

covid-19 2The NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app – which has had more calamities than Mr Bean – has hit yet another obstacle after an update has been banned for breaking the terms of an agreement made with Apple and Google.

The update, which had been timed to coincide with this week’s relaxation of lockdown rules, would have seen users upload logs of venue check-ins, carried out via poster barcode scans. If they tested positive for the virus, then others could be warned.

But under the terms that all health authorities signed up to in order to use Apple and Google’s contact-tracing tech, they had to agree not to collect any location data via the software.

As a result, Apple and Google refused to make the update available for download from their app stores last week, and have instead kept the old version live.

When questioned, the Department of Health declined to discuss how the latest cock-up had occurred.

Scotland is not affected because it released a separate product – Check In Scotland – to share venue histories, rather than trying to build the functionality into its Protect Scotland contact-tracing app.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health told the BBC: “The deployment of the functionality of the NHS Covid-19 app to enable users to upload their venue history has been delayed.

“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.”

Almost from the outset there were warnings that take-up of the contact tracing app, which uses an Apple and Google-developed system to keep a private log of people users have been close to, will simply not happen without consumer confidence and trust.

The launch followed months of delays; the first version of the app was trialled on the Isle of Wight in May at a cost of £11m but later abandoned while total costs were estimated to be an additional £25m.

There have also been issues with backwards compatibility; the app cannot be run on older devices, meaning one in five iPhones and 8% of Android smartphones currently in use in the UK are too old to install the software.

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