The relationship between trust and attitudes towards the COVID-19 digital contact-tracing app in the UK

UKRI funded Horizon Digital Economy Research and Trustworthy Autonomous Systems Hub worked together to address the relationship between trust and attitudes towards the COVID-19 digital contact-tracing app in the United Kingdom.  Findings have now been published in PLOS ONE.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, digital contact-tracing has been employed in many countries to monitor and manage the spread of the disease. However, to be effective such a system must be adopted by a substantial proportion of the population; therefore, public trust plays a key role.  A series of interviews were carried out prior to the app’s release and a large scale survey examining attitudes towards the app was carried out after release. Extending previous work which showed that there are issues surrounding trust and understanding that hindered adoption and therefore the effectiveness of the NHS COVID-19 smartphone app, especially for potentially vulnerable populations, this paper used new statistical analyses to examine more closely the relationships between trust and adoption of digital contact-tracing. By using an overall measure of Trust in the App, we are able understand the relationships between trust and motivations for download, trust in others, and specific aspects of the app itself which were previously unreported. These additional analyses reveal that trust has significant effects on both use and non-use on several levels; key findings include:

  • The strongest drivers for downloading the app, including wishing to help the NHS, reduce the spread of the virus, and protect oneself and others, show moderate correlations with levels of trust.
  • The more participants trust the institutions involved in contact-tracing, including the UK government, local government, big tech companies, private contractors, the NHS, and large hospitality venues, the greater their trust in the app.
  • Higher levels of trust in the app were also related to higher importance placed on various features of the app by respondents, for example that the app provided explanations for information given to them, that they could verify that notifications were authentic, and that they could speak to a person about any advice from the app.
  • Higher levels of trust were related to positive attitudes towards the app, especially that it was reliable, useful to them and wider society, and easy to use.
  • A lack of trust in those who built the app is among the most common reasons for not downloading it, along with not wanting to be tracked, not thinking it would be effective, and not wanting to take part in contact-tracing in that way