Google and Apple block update to England’s contact-tracing app over privacy violation

An update to NHS’s COVID-19 app has been blocked by Apple and Google for violating their location data collection rules.

Source: Google and Apple block update to England’s contact-tracing app over privacy violation

Some time back I wrote about the digital contact tracing efforts being made by a variety of public and private institutions. The endeavour, fraught with privacy considerations, has yet to truly prove its potential – little evidence of the efficacy of the approach has been gathered. In an effort to change this, the UK government has recently attempted to release an update to their app, built upon the Apple/Google framework, in lockstep with a change in the nation’s COVID policy. The app would begin to gather and store geographic tracking data to enable authorities to better respond to outbreaks as citizens break free of a long lockdown to socialise in outdoor eateries and pubs. This move however has met resistance from both Apple and Google, who are thankfully taking users’ privacy very seriously.

On privacy and contact tracing

Contact tracing, the process by which health authorities can identify those at risk of infection by virtue of proximity to a known case of a virus, has long been a pillar of pandemic response. With radio-enabled mobile devices now globally ubiquitous, it comes as little surprise to see that they are playing a role in the evolution of contact tracing methods.

Contact tracing is only as effective as its scale. The ability to evaluate only small proportions of an at-risk population will ultimately undermine any contact tracing system, manual or digital. As early attempts to develop contact tracing apps launched around the globe, technical limitations, privacy concerns and poor assumptions about adoption rates undermined almost all efforts. Into this mess stepped Apple and Google, together responsible for the software, and to a lesser extent hardware, which power the majority of our mobile devices.

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