The Covid-19 track and trace app has not been automatically downloaded onto people’s phones

16th Jun 2020

Claim

The NHS track and trace app is being automatically downloaded onto phones.

Conclusion

This is incorrect. What has been added is an API, which can help Covid-19 tracking apps function. The official tracking app is not available in the UK yet, outside of testing in the Isle of Wight.

We’ve seen a claim circulating on Facebook that the NHS Covid-19 “track and trace” app has been automatically downloaded onto people’s Android phones under the name “COVID-19 exposure notifications”.

The claim that the app has been automatically downloaded is incorrect. What has been added to both Android and Apple phones is the Exposure Notification API. This is not an app itself—it’s an underlying technology developed by Apple and Google that allows coronavirus tracking apps made by public health bodies to work across devices.

The UK’s official tracing app has not yet left its testing stage, and has not been available for download outside of the Isle Of Wight. The version of the app that was being tested at the time this post was originally published did not use the Apple/Google Exposure Notification API, opting for a different technical approach. This approach has since been abandoned in favour of the Apple/Google system.

Even when the app does become available, downloading it will not be mandatory—the NHS says “people will always have the choice of whether or not to download the app”.

If you do not have a tracing app that uses it installed on your phone, then the Exposure Notification API is turned off by default, and users will have to make “an explicit choice” to turn it on. Users will also be able to turn the API off if they want (even after downloading an app) in their phone’s settings.

Apple and Google have suggested that they have an intention to create a system which operates without the need for an app, but it’s unclear how that will work or operate at the current time.

Update 18 June 2020

This piece has been updated to reflect the change in technical approach to the UK's tracing app.

Update 22 June 2020

We have updated this article to mention Google and Apple's suggestion that they might create a system for coronavirus tracking that operates without the need for an app in the future.