Coronavirus: Fake and 'pointless' contact tracing apps putting public health at risk, government warns

Adam Smith
·3-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Fake contact tracing apps have been called an 'irresponsible and pointless attempt to subvert a public health tool' by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Anti-lockdown activists and coronavirus conspiracy theorists have been circulating a contact tracing app called “Covid 1984”, which lets users create a fake QR code that can be used to gain entry to venues using contact tracing without passing on personal information.

Recently, real contact tracing apps were launched in England and Wales, which are used to inform people if they have been near someone with the coronavirus so they can self-isolate.

“Fake track and trace, as London was a nightmare to get into places and we was refused entry in nearly all places without abiding to track and trace, which im [sic] sure left us all with no entry at all...if you click the link before entering it will show that you have checked in on your screen”, wrote one user sharing the app in a Telegram channel, as reported by Vice.

"It will always change date times for you. Enjoy.”

Users shared messages of using the app successfully in pubs and other establishments in Nottingham and Birmingham.

“This is an irresponsible and pointless attempt to subvert a public health tool designed to keep people safe and uphold data privacy. The NHS COVID-19 app is designed to protect you and your loved ones, and the check-in feature means that users can be sent notifications with public health advice if needed. Information is held securely on the user’s phone”, DHSC said in a statement to The Independent.

“Swift action will be taken if any apps are found to be improperly using NHS or DHSC branding to promote use of their app. We are investigating the legitimacy of the app referenced in this article, and we will take any appropriate action if determined to be necessary.”

The creator of the app, identified by Vice, said they were motivated by claimed inaccuracies in the government’s tests for the coronavirus and the potential for people to be deemed infectious when they are not.

“Obviously people don’t want to use an app that is going to tell them to quarantine under the threat of a £10,000 fine, on the basis of these highly inaccurate tests,” they said.

The app creator, Vice reports, cited misinformation that Serco was paid to develop the NHS contact tracing app when asked whether a fake app would help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“What we’ve seen with the government’s response to this virus is it’s been mostly about shovelling vast amounts of public money into private pockets,” they said.

“Covid 1984” app has been downloaded 430 times since the start of October, they claim.

In comparison, the NHS COVID-19 app has been downloaded 16 million times.

The app’s creator was not immediately available for comment. Social media accounts belonging to the creator have since been deleted following media reports.

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