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Apple and Google block track and trace app update

Mobile News
April 12, 2021

Privacy groups accuse Govt of attempting to deceive the public

The Government’s vaccine passport plans in England and Wales have been dealt a blow by Apple and Google who have blocked an update to the contact tracing app for breaking terms of its privacy agreement with the two tech giants.

The Department of Health promised to handle data in a private and decentralised way even if users shared their check-ins to protect fellow users.

But it has now emerged that the feature would require centralised database available to the authorities.

The government agreed not to harvest any location data from consumers to gain access to Google and Apple’s contact-tracing tech.

“It’s hugely concerning that the government attempted to sidestep those privacy protections without making it clear to the public that this would cause location data to be collected”, said Ray Walsh, who works on a campaign to protect user data.

“The blocking of the new opt-in location disclosure feature appears to reveal that the government was attempting to deceive the public into believing that location data would still be handled in an appropriately secure and private manner.”

“It is now clear that the government misunderstood how it can leverage the technology provided by Google and Apple. Or they were hoping to sneak this update in the back door and get people to opt-in to a centralised approach without providing transparency about exactly what they were doing.”

“It is vital that the UK’s test and trace app continues to use a decentralised approach that does not result in the government constantly tracking people’s whereabouts.

“It is lucky for consumers that Google and Apple set strict limitations on how the app is permitted to handle data to ensure privacy.

“It will be interesting to see how the government responds because in Scotland a secondary app that causes data to be harvested to a centralised repository has already been rolled out, and consumers must be wary of any similar moves in the UK.

Tech Giants’ Power

David Clews from another privacy advocacy campaign group UKUnity added: “Just a week ago, the Department of Health seemed to think this update to the app would go through without problems.

“It’s hard to understand why. After all, the rules for using the Apple-Google Exposure Notification System were clear – collecting any location data was a no-no.

“The app team knew that when they switched to it last summer, having discovered that going it alone with their system was just not practical. But they may have assumed that, because the sharing of locations by users was optional, the tech giants might show some flexibility.

“Instead, Apple and Google have insisted that rules are rules. What this underlines is that governments around the world have been forced to frame part of their response to the global pandemic according to rules set down by giant unelected corporations.

“At a time when the power of the tech giants is under the microscope as never before, that will leave many people feeling uncomfortable.”

No-one from the Department of Health was available for comment at the time of writing.

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