Health Secretary uses Facebook poll to estimate coronavirus tracing app take-up

7 May 2020
What was claimed

An early poll shows 80% of people on the Isle of Wight want to download the government’s new coronavirus tracing app.

Our verdict

This is based on a Facebook poll which is not representative of Isle of Wight residents.

“According to a very early poll, 80% of people on the Isle of Wight want to download [the government’s contact tracing app]” 

Matt Hancock, 5 May 2020 

Mr Hancock’s claim is based on a Facebook poll done by a local radio station on the island, and is not representative of the island’s residents.

What is the app?

The government recently announced it would start trialling a new app to track and trace Covid-19 cases on the Isle of Wight from 5 May. The app allows users to report having symptoms of Covid-19 and then notifies people they have come into contact with, advising them on how to get a Covid-19 test.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock was asked by Laura Trott MP in parliament how many people would need to download the app for it to be useful to which he responded:

“She is right to say that the more people who download the app, the more people will protect themselves, their families and their communities...according to a very early poll, 80% of people on the Isle of Wight want to download it.”

He later clarified that the poll was done by Isle of Wight Radio which the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed to us was a Facebook poll, as had been suggested by SNP MP Kirsty Blackman

79% of respondents said they would download the app. The problem with this is we don’t know to what extent this figure represents the actual views of residents of the Isle of Wight. 

As we’ve written before, a good survey, by design, asks a group of people (the “sample”) what they think, and tries to make sure that those people represent the wider population.

In this case there was no guarantee that people responding to the survey represented the population of the Isle of Wight. We’re not sure the respondents even live there, and because the poll was done on Facebook it won’t have captured the views of those who don’t use the social network. 

As well as wanting to download the app, there’s also the problem of the fact that there will be a number of people who can’t because they don’t have a smartphone and it seems likely that these people were underrepresented by a poll done on Facebook.

All in all, the 79% figure can’t be used as a basis for estimating the likely uptake of the app on the Isle of Wight. 

Between 10-13 April, pollsters Ipsos-MORI, surveyed British adults and found 65% supported mobile phone service providers giving the government roaming data to track Covid-19 cases. 

This doesn’t tell us how many would download an app which works in a different way, and the survey was done online so doesn’t represent non-internet users. But it gives some reliable information about the public’s attitude towards these sorts of initiatives.

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