Apple Blocks Update to UK NHS Contact Tracing App for Breaking Location Data Collection Rules

Apple and Google have blocked an update to England and Wales' contact tracing app that included a feature that would have collected user location data, breaking the companies' terms and conditions for contact tracing apps, the BBC reports.

exposure notification cartoon
Last year, Apple and Google partnered up to announce a COVID-19 contact tracing API that allows apps to track whether someone has been in contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19.

When visiting a shop, restaurant or other public venue, users of the NHS COVID-19 app can scan a QR code to indicate that they've been at that location. Using the API, the NHS app checks a database to look for a match, and can inform the user if they need to self-quarantine and/or get tested if someone at the same location recorded a positive COVID-19 test result that was flagged by other means.

The U.K.'s National Health Service in England and Wales had planned to release an update to its app that would have asked COVID-19 positive users to upload a log of their QR code check-ins. However, according to the terms and conditions which govern Apple and Google's contact tracing API, any app that uses the API cannot collect user location data.

As a result, both companies have refused to make the update available for download on their respective app distribution platforms. The previous version of the NHS app, however, remains available for download.

The plan had been to ask users to upload logs of venue check-ins - carried out via poster barcode scans - if they tested positive for the virus. This could be used to warn others.

But the two firms had explicitly banned such a function from the start.

Under the terms that all health authorities signed up to use Apple and Google's privacy-centric 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.

As the BBC notes, the NHS app has always included the ability for users to scan a QR code when visiting a public establishment. However, the code was only used to check a database that had been generated by local authorities following a viral outbreak.

The now rejected update would have changed that, by asking users who had tested positive to upload their QR code checks-in to the cloud. A spokesperson for the Department of Health told the BBC that "The deployment of the functionality of the NHS Covid-19 app to enable users to upload their venue history has been delayed."

Note: Due to the political or social nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

gnasher729 Avatar
4 weeks ago

Protecting health and saving lives is more important than blindly enforcing the rules. Apple & Google need to be more flexible.
This is just ridiculously stupid. We can protect health and save lives by making people _use_ this app. And we make them use it by giving strong guarantees that their privacy is protected. If that update went through I’d instantly delete the app from my phone and tell all friends and relatives to do the same. Lives and health would be much better protected by firing Dido Harding instantly.
Score: 33 Votes (Like | Disagree)
gnasher729 Avatar
4 weeks ago
“Privacy” is something that UK politicians just don’t understand. And what they understand even less is that Apple and Google could both just say “No” to them.

In this case, the project is run by Dido Harding, known best for almost destroying Talk Talk when they gave hackers access to their customer database and couldn’t see anything wrong with that. So this is not unexpected.
Score: 32 Votes (Like | Disagree)
DrV Avatar
4 weeks ago

Protecting health and saving lives is more important than blindly enforcing the rules. Apple & Google need to be more flexible.
I do not believe this is that simple.

If we say that health and saving lives is the most important value above everything else, our world should look very different from what it is now. Alcohol and unhealthy food should be banned today, walking 10 000 steps a day should be mandatory, maximum speed limit 20 mph.

Health is an important value, but we have already accepted that even there we can make compromises. Privacy is an important value, as well, and tracking puts these two values in conflict. Making that compromise is a matter of values, and there is no "of course" in the answer.
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Defender2010 Avatar
4 weeks ago
The team behind this app are a disaster. First it was months late and now this! Surely someone had the brains to think of this. Millions of ££ wasted on something that other countries out together in a month. Disgraceful waste of tax payers money really. Wonder if the devs owned a bar before and are mates with Hancock.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
msp3 Avatar
4 weeks ago
It's optional they said. It's not spying on you,they said. It's not a police state they said. And now, it's forced and you are oppressed under threat of arrest and persecution by the state.

And the big "charities" Amnesty International, "civil liberties" outfits, etc. not a single peep from any of them. These so-called rights organizations are nothing more than disingenuous, political special interest groups that when push comes to shove "just follow orders" especially if regular people are oppressed instead of some trendy new scam they're running.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
gnasher729 Avatar
4 weeks ago

Hmmm. Mixed results on this one. The NHS also cannot use a custom API so where does this goto now?
They have the choice. Remove their code that spies on my location data, or not have the app on the AppStore or playstore. Up to them.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

tracking disabled ios 14 5

Analytics Suggest 96% of Users Leave App Tracking Disabled in iOS 14.5

Friday May 7, 2021 1:51 am PDT by
An early look at an ongoing analysis of Apple's App Tracking Transparency suggests that the vast majority of iPhone users are leaving app tracking disabled since the feature went live on April 26 with the release of iOS 14.5. According to the latest data from analytics firm Flurry, just 4% of iPhone users in the U.S. have actively chosen to opt into app tracking after updating their device...
macbook colors 3d black bezels

Prosser: Next MacBook Air Could Come in Colors Similar to iMac

Friday May 7, 2021 6:55 am PDT by
According to Apple leaker Jon Prosser, Apple's upcoming release of the MacBook Air will feature various colors, similar to the colors in the newly released 24-inch iMac. In the latest video of his YouTube channel Front Page Tech, Prosser says the same source who accurately provided him information on the first Apple silicon iMac coming in colors has told him that he recently saw a prototype...
tile amazon sidewalk integration

Tile to Leverage Amazon Echo and Ring Devices to Better Compete With AirTags

Friday May 7, 2021 2:07 pm PDT by
Amazon today announced that it is teaming up with Tile to add Amazon Sidewalk integration to Tile's Bluetooth trackers. Amazon Sidewalk, for those unfamiliar, is a network of Amazon Bluetooth devices that's designed to improve the connectivity of devices like the Ring and Amazon Echo. Tile will now be joining Amazon Sidewalk, and through this integration, Amazon Echo and Ring devices will be ...
Top Stories 59 Feature

Top Stories: Epic Games vs. Apple, Hidden AirTag Mode, Apple Music Hi-Fi, Colorful MacBook Air?

Saturday May 8, 2021 6:00 am PDT by
While we wait for the newly introduced iMac, iPad Pro, and Apple TV models to launch later this month, this week saw the kickoff of the big Epic Games v. Apple trial, with lots of juicy tidbits coming out as the two sides make their arguments. This week also saw some rumors about a Hi-Fi tier for Apple Music, more biometric sensing capabilities for Apple Watch, and timing for the...
zoom app icon

Apple Gave Zoom Access to Special API to Use iPad Camera During Split View Multitasking

Sunday May 9, 2021 2:00 am PDT by
Zoom, a hallmark platform used by millions during the global health crisis, has been given access to a special iPadOS API that allows the app to use the iPad camera while the app is in use in Split View multitasking mode. This case of special treatment was first brought to attention by app developer Jeremy Provost, who, in a blog post, explains that Zoom uses a special API that allows the...
snapchat dark mode

Snapchat Rolls Out Dark Mode on iOS

Wednesday May 5, 2021 1:17 am PDT by
Nearly two years following the release of iOS and iPadOS 13, which included native, built-in, and systemwide dark mode, Snapchat, one of the world's most prominent social media networks, has finally rolled out a dark mode theme for iOS users. Snapchat began testing a dark mode theme of its app design late last year with a small group of iOS users. Now, Snapchat says that as of this week, it...
tile sticker e1570533758981

Tile CEO: 'We Welcome Competition From Apple, But We Think It Needs to Be Fair'

Tuesday May 4, 2021 9:51 am PDT by
Just after Apple announced its AirTags, Tile CEO CJ Prober relayed his concerns about competing with Apple in the tracking space, and said that Tile would ask Congress to investigate Apple's business practices specific to Find My and item trackers. Prober this week did an interview with Bloomberg, where he further expanded on Tile's complaints about Apple and why he feels that Tile is...
fortnite apple logo 2

Epic CEO Tim Sweeney Admits App Store's 30% Cut Is Similar to Consoles, Would Have Accepted Special Deal With Apple

Tuesday May 4, 2021 1:54 pm PDT by
Apple's legal battle with Epic Games is continuing on, and during the second day of the trial, Epic Games' CEO Tim Sweeney continued his testimony against Apple. Sweeney was grilled by Apple's lawyers, and made several points seemingly favorable to Apple. In addition to mentioning how he prefers Apple's iPhone and values Apple's privacy policies that he's aiming to dismantle, Sweeney...
signal instagram ads3

Signal Shares the Instagram Ads Facebook Doesn't Want You to See

Wednesday May 5, 2021 1:29 am PDT by
Encrypted messaging app Signal has had a series of Instagram ads blocked from the social media platform, after it attempted to show users how much data the Facebook-owned company collects about them and how it's used to push targeted ads. In a blog post, Signal described how it generated the ads to show users why they were seeing them, simply by declaring upfront the information that the...
iphone 12 preorder purple

Apple Begins Transition to Randomized Serial Numbers With Purple iPhone 12

Wednesday May 5, 2021 9:17 am PDT by
MacRumors previously reported about Apple's plan to switch to randomized serial numbers for future products starting in early 2021, and this transition has now started with the new purple iPhone 12 model in multiple countries. With assistance from Aaron Zollo, host of the YouTube channel ZolloTech, we can confirm that the purple iPhone 12 released last month has a new 10-character serial...