NHS COVID-19 app users will benefit from updates to the app that make it more accurate and user-friendly from today, 29 October. This is the latest in a series of updates since national launch, designed to improve the efficacy and usability of the app.
The app, which has now been downloaded 19 million times by around 40% of eligible smartphone owners, will be updated to better estimate distance between users to increase the accuracy of close-contact notifications sent out by the app.
The accuracy will be even better than at launch, and working in collaboration with scientists from The Alan Turing Institute to utilise the latest version of the Google/Apple API, it is now the only app globally to have innovated its underlying technology to exploit this latest API update. This improves the estimation of distance via Bluetooth, further helping to break chains of transmission.
By improving the accuracy of how the app estimates distance, it can better assess whether someone is at risk of having caught the virus and therefore needs to isolate. This means the app will better protect users, their loved ones and our communities
The app has been designed with user privacy in mind, so it tracks the virus not people, and uses the latest in data security technology to protect privacy. The system generates a random ID for an individual’s device, which can be exchanged between devices via Bluetooth (not GPS). These unique random IDs regenerate frequently to add an extra layer of security and preserve anonymity.
The app does not hold personal information such as your name, address or date of birth, and only requires the first half of your postcode to ensure local outbreaks can be managed. No personal data is shared with the government, police or the NHS.
The update also addresses the issue of ‘ghost’ exposure notifications, sent by Google and Apple when the app interacts with the API, improving the clarity of app communications.
NHS Test and Trace Director of Product, Gaby Appleton, said: "The team behind the app are continually working to improve its accuracy and user experience, to make it as simple as possible to keep users and their loved ones safe.
"We are thrilled that over 19 million people have chosen to download the app to help protect their loved ones while preserving their privacy, and that over 680,000 QR codes have been created by businesses to support digital contact tracing.
"This update builds on that success by increasing accuracy, and also removing ‘ghost’ exposure notifications, meaning users will only be notified if they need to self-isolate.
"The more people who use the app, the better it works, so I encourage all those who have not yet downloaded the app to do so."
Mark Briers of The Alan Turing Institute said: "It is thanks to the hard work of the NHS COVID-19 app development team and colleagues at the Turing Institute that we have been able to exploit the updated API technology in this way.
"This update increases the accuracy, meaning those most at risk will be notified to self-isolate."