DMA warns contact tracing app will flop without trust

dma_new2Widespread take-up of the NHS’ much-delayed Covid-19 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.

That is the stark prediction of data-driven marketing body the DMA, which has carried out a full-scale review of the privacy policy and user experience of the app which launched in England and Wales yesterday (September 24).

The launch follows months of delays, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s claims that the UK would have a “world beating” track and trace system by the end of May, to stop a second coronavirus peak and help ease the lockdown.

In fact, the first version of the app was trialled on the Isle of Wight in May but later abandoned.

By downloading the app, users can provide details if they fall ill. Using Bluetooth technology, the app then sends off an alert to all the other app users who may have been in contact with the infected person.

If the system determines that a person has been in close contact, they will be automatically sent a notification saying they need to self-isolate for 14 days, although this will not be enforced.

While the DMA says the app appears to offer a level of functionality and privacy its compliance and legal teams are content with, it is calling for clear communication from the Government to help both business and consumers to understand both how and why they should use the app.

DMA chief executive Chris Combemale said: “The NHS app offers a simple user-friendly experience and strives to protect the privacy of the people using it. The key to its success will be trust, which will only come if the UK Government communicates clearly with both the public and the businesses they are visiting.

“After months of delays trust in the delivery of the track and trace system is low. Over the past six months, businesses across the UK have developed their own contact tracing systems in the absence of a centralised approach. Now they have been told they must use this new app, but with few answers to the many questions they may have and no time to ask them.

“The UK Government must provide clear guidance for businesses on what they need to do, as well as educating consumers.”

Meanwhile, according to “government sources” quoted by the Guardian take-up could be as low as 10% in some places.  It cites international examples which show take-up rates of similar apps at between 10% and 30%, a far cry from the NHS app target in April of 80% of smartphone users.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are at a tipping point in our efforts to control the spread of this virus. With infection rates rising, we must use every tool at our disposal to prevent transmission, including the latest technology.

“We have worked extensively with tech companies, international partners, and privacy and medical experts – and learned from the trials – to develop an app that is secure, simple to use and will help keep our country safe. [This] launch marks an important step forward in our fight against this invisible killer and I urge everyone who can to download and use the app to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

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