Below are answers to frequently asked questions, prepared by our partner who developed the app, ZOE Global Limited.
Who created the COVID symptom tracker?
The COVID Symptom Tracker app was developed by Zoe with input from King’s College London and Massachusetts General Hospital.
The app will be used to study the symptoms of COVID-19 and track the spread of this virus. The research is led by Dr. Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London and director of TwinsUK.
TwinsUK is a scientific study of 15,000 identical and non-identical twins, which has been running for nearly three decades. As well as using the app to study symptoms in the general population, TwinsUK will use it to understand how symptoms develop with 5000 participating twins. Their research is funded by the Wellcome Trust and the National Institute for Health Research.
What is the aim of the research?
This research aims to help scientists understand COVID-19 , with the following specific aims:
- Better understand symptoms of COVID-19
- Understand how fast the virus is spreading in your area.
- Identify high risk areas in the country
- Identify who is most at risk by better understanding symptoms linked to health conditions
- In the future we hope we will be able to use this data to help the NHS support sick individuals. Today the app has no clinical features and you must visit the NHS website for all advice on coronavirus.
Who will be using my data?
Your data is protected under GDPR, and can only be used for the purpose that you consent to. That means it can only be used for medical science and to help the NHS. This is a not-for-profit initiative, and your data will not be used for commercial purposes.
We try to minimise the amount of personally identifiable information we collect (eg year of birth but not date of birth), while recognising that the research requires it.
The data you share will be used for research purposes by King’s College London, Guys & St Thomas’ Hospitals and data scientists at ZOE Global. It may also be shared with the the UK National Health Service.
You may share your name and mobile number if you wish, but this is optional and is intended to allow us in the future to provide this information to the NHS should you appear at risk. This is not available today, and the app does not provide any clinical advice. If you have any health concerns you should go to the NHS website.
How will my data be protected?
We take data security very seriously and enforce best practices to ensure your data is protected. This doesn’t mean that there is no risk but we have taken every precaution to minimise that for you.
When we share data with researchers at partner institutions, such as Harvard University and Stanford University, it will be anonymised but as the USA has different rules on data protection they may not protect your data in the same way as, or as well as, under GDPR. We are permitted to do this, because you consent to our doing it.
Will someone make money off my data?
No. This is a not for profit initiative. While ZOE Global Ltd is a commercial entity, this app was built for free to support King’s College London’s vital coronavirus research. The app is and always will be free. The data you provide will not be used for commercial purposes.
We will be seeking grants and donations for the app, to cover the costs of the service and so we can roll it out to the many countries who have been contacting us.
How can I delete my data?
If you would like us to stop processing your personal data, you may withdraw your consent at any time by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. When you withdraw your consent, we will delete all personal data we hold about you. In the future we will try and build an easier mechanism for deletion.
Why are you only testing twins for COVID-19?
Around 5,000 twins from TwinsUK will be using the app to record their symptoms. TwinsUK provides access to one of the most extensive clinical studies in the world with the most detailed clinical and long-term health data over 25 years. Those showing signs of coronavirus infection will be sent a home testing kit – if we can source enough of them. Researchers believe studying COVID-19 within this group is clinically urgent given the current limits on testing.
Unfortunately there may not be enough testing kits even for the twins. Therefore we cannot distribute testing kits to all app users at this point in time. Like everyone we hope that testing capabilities will be much bigger very soon. In the meantime logging your symptoms will allow us to understand much better the progress of the virus in the absence of a test for every individual.
There are other symptom trackers - are you taking steps to standardise and share data?
Yes. We are working with researchers around the world, and this app reflects input from many countries. We expect the questions we ask to evolve as we learn more about the virus, and King’s College London will be coordinating data sharing with researchers in the UK and other countries to try and learn as fast as possible.
My symptom isn't listed - can I add it?
We are constantly reviewing the latest research and advice from scientists. If you have any feedback about our list of symptoms or would like to suggest a new symptom, please email us at email@example.com.
I would like to share my symptoms with relatives so they know if I get sick - can I do that?
Sharing your symptoms with others is not currently possible. We may make this feature available but as a small, not for profit team we appreciate your patience.
Can someone under 18 use the app?
Unfortunately, anyone under 18 is not able to use our app directly, as they must be able to give consent. We are discussing with our researchers how they wish to deal with this, as it is a frequent question from users. We hope to release new functionality in the future to allow people to input information on behalf of others. Clinicians and researchers are particularly concerned about vulnerable individuals who may not be able to report symptoms themselves.
Why are you asking for so many app permissions?
We released our app quickly with default app permission settings. Although the app is allowed to ask for all of these things, it needs to ask your permission and in practice does not use any of them. Many of you rightly flagged this as excessive and we recognise it fails to meet best practice. As we do not use all these permissions, and don’t intend to use them in the future, we will be removing them in a subsequent release of the app.
I've spotted a bug, or would like to suggest a feature - where should I send it?
This is a not for profit app that was produced in a very short development time, therefore we admit there may be a bug or two. We welcome any and all feedback about our app at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please bear with us as we resolve these issues.
I'm unable to create an account - what should I do?
We are aware some users have experienced issues creating an account on the app. This is a not for profit app that was produced in a short development time, therefore, there may be a few bugs. The number of users scaled from zero to over half a million within 24 hours. The good news is some of our team have built software that has scaled to hundreds of millions of users, but we still need to move fast to catch up! We recommend uninstalling and reinstalling the app and try creating an account again. If this doesn’t work, please contact us at email@example.com. We are working on a better solution but this is a non-profit initiative so please bear with us.
I mistyped my e-mail when registering for the app - what should I do?
If you uninstall and reinstall the app, you will be logged out of the app and you can try to create a new account with the correct email address. We know this isn’t a long term solution, but it is a short term fix that we are using for now.
Will the app be available outside the UK?
We have now released the app to people in the US and Sweden.
Will you be launching a web based version of the app for those without smartphones?
Although this is not currently available, we intend to do so as soon as we have the resources. We realise that it is important for those who do not have smartphones.
Will you make this app available for those with limited sight?
We are aware that our app does not currently meet some accessibility standards and are working to resolve these issues. Please bear with us. We are a not for profit and have had to build this very rapidly.
I'd like to see what symptoms are reported near me or across the country –how can I see what is going on?
This feature is not currently available. We may make this feature available in the future but as a small, not for profit team we appreciate your patience.
Why do I need to register with an email?
We use your email address so that if you lose your password we can send you a new one. You can use whatever email address you wish.