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Apple, which dictates country’s contact tracking app guidelines, is not helping its EU cartel review

There is a growing problem with Apple’s role in the contact tracking apps that countries are developing to fight the coronavirus pandemic. This was underlined by the UK’s announcement that the long-awaited NHSx app will be parked in favor of another model recommended by Apple and Google.

Apple effectively dictates to governments the levels of data protection their contact tracking apps must meet. Unless apps meet Apple’s requirements, they cannot access Bluetooth on users’ phones in the background. This is crucial for the proper functioning of the apps (Google takes a laissez-fair approach without these restrictions).


7;s approach fits a broader view that the company is persistent in determining which apps are allowed on iPhones. The company has just been the subject of an EU antitrust investigation for similar reasons. There are also restrictions on the alternative Apple / Google model, which can make contact tracking apps less effective.

What Apple wants …

Contact tracking apps aim to prevent the spread of the corona virus by monitoring who a person comes into contact with. If a contact is likely to be infected, the app triggers a warning asking the user to isolate themselves and be tested. Such apps have already been introduced in numerous countries.

The British approach was to store the data used by the app to determine who is likely to be infected in a central database. However, this violated Apple’s restrictions that the data should instead be stored on users’ phones – the so-called decentralized model.

[Read: How major US cities are using location data to make key decisions about COVID-19]

As British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, the NHSx app might have worked if Apple hadn’t been willing to negotiate the restrictions. Developers also need to address a special addendum to the App Store’s standard legal agreement.

Apple did not respond to comments requests in time for publication. Google welcomed the UK announcement and said its approach was “developed based on consultations with public health experts around the world, including in the UK, to ensure that our efforts are useful to the authorities when they are develop their own apps to limit the spread of COVID-19, with privacy and security at the heart of the design. “