In the UK, an update for the NHS’s app for COVID-19 contact tracing has been blocked by Apple and Google for breaking the terms of an agreement that was made.
The update included additional features that would ask users to upload logs of their venue check-ins, which are recorded by scanning a barcode at the venue.
If someone tests positive for the virus, the app could then be used to warn others at the venue. This coincides with the relaxation of national lockdown rules, which began this week.
However, both of the tech giants had already banned this function. Under the terms of the agreement, the NHS agreed that in order to use Apple and Google’s contact tracing technology, it wouldn’t be allowed to collect location data using the software.
This means that the update to the app has now been blocked by both companies and it won’t be available to download in either app store. Instead, the old version will continue to run as normal.
What data does the app share?
Since the launch of the contact tracing app, users have been able to scan a QR code when they enter a venue, such as a shop, restaurant, leisure center, bar, or another venue.
But, the data provided isn’t accessible to other users. It’s only used if a particular location is identified by local authorities as being a virus hotspot. The area is then flagged in a central database, and other users are alerted of this without the app sharing other users’ data.
However, this feature hasn’t been used much so far due to confusion within the local authorities. The NHS had intended to automate the process, which would involve users being asked to upload their location logs if they had a positive test result.
This would then alter other users that visited the same place at the same time, advising them to monitor their symptoms or get a COVID-19 test.
Although this would be opt-in, Google and Apple still maintain that this is a clear breach of the terms that were agreed to in order to use the companies’ API (application programming interface), which is essential for the contact tracing features.