Apple and Google have blocked an update to the NHS’ Covid-19 contact tracing app over a violation of their privacy rules.

The update had been planned to coincide with the relaxation of lockdown rules on Monday.

The NHS’ contact tracing app has long allowed users to scan QR codes in order to maintain a log of locations the user has visited.

This could be used to alert the user if one of the locations became known as a virus hotspot.

Privacy

But the log has never been accessible to other people or to a centralised database.

The planned update would have allowed users to upload their location logs, if they chose to do so.

Users who tested positive were to be asked for their consent to share their venue histories.

But such a facility has been banned from the beginning by Apple and Google on privacy grounds.

Apps using Apple and Google’s Exposure Notifications platform are barred from sending precise location data to public health authorities, or to the two tech companies.

The NHS switched to the Exposure Notifications platform in June 2020 after finding that its initial, independent system missed too many instances where virus transmission could have occurred.

‘Delay’

The Protect Scotland contact-tracing app also uses the Apple-Google system, but Scotland has a separate app called Check In Scotland that allows users to share venue histories.

The Department of Health said the planned feature had been “delayed”, without offering details.

“The deployment of the functionality of the NHS Covid-19 app to enable users to upload their venue history has been delayed,” it said in a statement.

“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.”

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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