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Apple blocked an England and Wales NHS COVID-19 app update over a privacy violation

Nhs Covid
Nhs Covid (Image credit: NHS)

What you need to know

  • Apple has blocked an NHS contact tracing app update because it breaks a privacy rule.
  • The contact tracing API the app uses prevents location data from being used but that didn't stop the app from trying to do it.

Apple has reportedly blocked an update to the NHS contact tracing app used by users in England and Wales after it was discovered to be trying to use location data in a way that is expressly forbidden.

According to a new BBC report, the app update intended to have users upload their location check-ins if they were discovered to have contracted COVID-19. The idea was that users would then be contacted if they had checked in to the same location at the same time. But that use of location data is prohibited under Apple – and Google's – terms.

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.The update had been timed to coincide with the relaxation of lockdown rules.[...]Under the terms that all health authorities signed up to in order to use Apple and Google's privacy-centric contact-tracing tech, they had to agree not to collect any location data via the software.

Apple has now prevented the app update from being made available via the App Store with the Department of Health now left to undo its mistake.

This is just the latest in a long line of issues the England and Wales NHS contact tracing app has had since even before it launched. Unfortunately, ut's unlikely to be the last.

Issues aside, those in England and Wales can download the NHS COVID-19 (opens in new tab) app from the App Store now.

Oliver Haslam
Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.