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UK’s NHS tried to push an app update the would start tracking users’ location

Apple and Google blocked it.

The latest update for the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app has now been blocked by both Google and Apple. The update apparently breaks the terms of an agreement made with both the Big Tech companies in that it suddenly started to track users’ location.

With the latest update, the contact tracing app would have required users to update logs of the venues they checked into by means of barcode scanning.

The users of the NHS Covid-19 app were required to scan QR codes whenever they entered shops, restaurants, or shopping malls, among other properties. That being said, this location data was never made accessible for others.

The update was all set to release when the lockdown rules in the UK were going to be relaxed, BBC reports.

Back when the NHS had signed up with Google and Apple to use their contact-tracing technology, they agreed upon not collecting any location data of users through the app. But with the latest update though, all of this changes, as location data would also be accessed. This explains why Apple and Google blocked the update.

As of now, only the older version of the app is made available both on App Store and Google Play.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health told BBC “The deployment of the functionality of the NHS Covid-19 app to enable users to upload their venue history has been delayed.”

“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 protects the public,” said the spokesperson. Apple seems to be open to working a way out of the bottleneck and facilitating what the UK government wants to accomplish.

It is worth noting that the app team behind NHS Covid-19 app may have certainly known about that the latest update would not go through as Google and Apple, right from the start, strongly disagreed with collecting location data. But according to how things panned out, it is safe to assume that the app team expected Google and Apple to be flexible.

Scotland, on the other hand, circumvented the problem by releasing a separate app altogether. This app collects location/venue histories but doesn’t make use of Apple or Google’s contract-tracing technologies.

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