Unique Britain’s Data Commissioner’s Workplace (ICO) has confirmed it’s investigating grumbles about heavy-handed advertising and marketing emails and texts selling the NHS COVID-19 contact-tracing app in England.

Between 26 and 27 September, NHS Check and Hint messaged anybody resident within the nation who was over the age of 16 and had beforehand offered their contact particulars to a GP. These contacted had not particularly opted in to obtain advertising and marketing communications relating to the NHS COVID-19 app.

In its FAQ, the NHS justified the mass email-and-text blast by underlining the urgency of the present scenario. “It was decided a matter of public well being significance to encourage folks to obtain the app as a important a part of NHS Check and Hint,” it wrote.

“England is experiencing a second peak of coronavirus transmission, leading to numerous native restrictions and tightening of nationwide restrictions. Encouraging folks to obtain the NHS COVID-19 app is taken into account by the Division of Well being and Social Care (DHSC) to be a extremely vital device for managing and monitoring the outbreak, and a matter of public curiosity.”

This did not go down effectively with everybody who acquired the message, together with Reg readers. “The UK authorities is spamming folks in an try and get them to put in the take a look at and hint app – what all good app builders do, proper?” one reader informed us.

“I’ve not opted in to obtain [these] emails. I’ve expressly opted out of all information sharing through my GP, nameless or in any other case. Even worse there isn’t any unsubscribe hyperlink on this e-mail. It looks as if the one solution to decide out of those messages is to inform my GP to take away my e-mail handle and cellphone quantity from their system – and I am going to do this now.”

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In an announcement despatched to The Register, the ICO confirmed it had began investigating folks’s gripes although it didn’t speak in confidence to us what number of it had acquired. “Now we have acquired complaints in relation to textual content and e-mail messages being despatched concerning the NHS COVID-19 app and we’re making enquiries,” mentioned an ICO spokesperson.

NHS COVID-19 launched on 24 September for England and Wales – Scotland and Northern Eire already had COVID-19 consciousness apps in obtainable.

The software program arrived at an acutely difficult second for the UK’s battle towards the pandemic. An infection charges have skyrocketed, prompting native lockdowns throughout massive elements of Wales and northern England. Given these circumstances, cybersecurity professional Professor Alan Woodward, of the College of Surrey, understood why the NHS opted for the trail it took – though he famous the information ought to be used with the strictest safeguards.

“I suppose I can see why they did it,” he mentioned. “What I used to be unaware of, and so I believe are others, is that GPs share our cellphone numbers with different elements of the NHS. It could be good to understand how it’s protected and particularly how NHS digital are making certain it does not grow to be a sufferer of hackers.

“A lot, I believe, could depend upon how it’s saved. If it is saved and related to different private information, it represents an unimaginable goal. It could successfully be the cellphone variety of everybody over 16 who has a cell phone (assuming they registered the cell with their GP which most do ask for as they now ship texts from the native surgical procedures with issues corresponding to appointment reminders).”

Woodward added that there ought to be no have to affiliate the cellphone quantity with different biographical or medical data as a result of generic nature of the message. “It goes again to fundamental GDPR precept of gathering the least quantity of information to realize the target,” he mentioned.

Whereas some could fault the strategies of the NHS Check and Hint crew, you’ll be able to’t actually argue with the outcomes. By the top of the weekend, practically 12.four million folks in England and Wales had downloaded the app.

Given the spike in infections – rising to a UK report of seven,143 yesterday – it is a good job the software program is lastly right here. It was as soon as billed as a central element within the battle towards coronavirus till improvement failed and it was relegated to being described because the “cherry on the cake” by Baroness Dido Harding, who leads the test-and-trace programme in England.

The Register has requested the UK authorities’s Division for Well being and Social Care and NHS Digital to remark. We are going to replace this story ought to we hear again. ®

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