Would you be happy for the government to track your location using your mobile phone?
If someone had asked you this question two years ago, the answer would likely have been a firm “no.” But fast-forward to 2021 and you’ll find that a large chunk of people have willingly downloaded contact-tracing apps in a bid to beat COVID-19.
But just how many people have downloaded these apps and which countries have seen the greatest penetration?
Our team of researchers looked at each contact-tracing app available on the Google Play Store to find out (due to there being no figures for the Apple App Store, the number of downloads for iOS devices available solely on the App Store haven’t been included but have been counted as an app available in that country). It is also worth noting that Apple has developed an Exposure Notification setting for iOS users which doesn’t require an app download but offers the same contact-tracing abilities (if switched on by the user).
- An estimated 321,332,010 people have download one of 159 contact-tracing apps across 94 countries
- This means, around 6 percent of all the 5.22 billion mobile users in the world have downloaded one of these apps
- Iceland has the largest proportion of app downloads to mobile users, with just over 50 percent downloading the Rakning C-19 app
- The country with the largest number of downloads is India with over 103 million downloads across three apps (reaching 8.95% of mobile users)
- Countries with the lowest penetration (less than 1% of users) include Algeria, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ghana, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Russia, Seychelles, and Tunisia
Top 10 countries with the highest contact-tracing app usage
As we have already mentioned, the country with the highest penetration of contact-tracing apps is Iceland. But, in 11 other countries, over 20 percent of mobile users have downloaded a contact-tracing app at some time or other:
- Iceland – 209,358 downloads to 413,446 cellular subscriptions = 50.64% app penetration: In Iceland, the app Rakning C-19, which was developed by the Directorate of Health of Iceland, has been downloaded by over 200,000 users. According to the description on Google Play: “The app collects the GPS location of the phone and stores locally on the device. If the phone owner is diagnosed with the Covid-19 disease he is asked by the Directorate of Health to share the location data for contact tracing in order to identify individuals that might need to go into quarantine.”
- Saudi Arabia – 19,970,893 downloads to 41,298,600 cellular subscriptions = 48.36% app penetration: Two apps created by the National Information Center in Saudi Arabia have reached almost 20 million people–Tawakkalna and Tabaud. The former has the highest reach (over 10 million downloads in Google Play alone) and “allows citizens and residents to request movement permits in cases of necessity during curfew; follow-up on their permit request status during curfew; and notify them when they are close to infectious or isolated areas.” This high figure is likely due to it being a mandatory requirement if you want to enter a public place. The latter, with over 1 million downloads, aims to track the spread of COVID-19 infections, alerting people if they’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive in the last 14 days. This was also made mandatory but only for government employees who need to enter ministry buildings.
- Gibraltar – 15,749 downloads to 40,537 cellular subscriptions = 38.85% app penetration: The Beat Covid Gibraltar app was created by the Gibraltar Health Authority. It utilizes Bluetooth™ technology to track whether or not users have been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. It also uses the Exposure Notification Service.
- Bahrain – 723,740 downloads to 1,900,360 cellular subscriptions = 38.08% app penetration: In Bahrain, the Information & eGovernment Authority launched the BeAware Bahrain app to provide contact-tracing features (through GPS tracking) alongside a whole host of others. Users may view COVID-19 test results, book test appointments, generate a PCR test certificate, pay for a test upon arrival in the country, fill out a declaration when they leave the country, and access various news updates, statistics, and announcements.
- Qatar – 1,290,293 downloads to 3,917,570 cellular subscriptions = 32.94% app penetration: EHTERAZ was launched by the State of Bahrain to provide contact-tracing, a visual QR code for showing infection and/or vaccine status, to identify areas with high infection rates, and provide access to official announcements. It uses Bluetooth™, background location services, and local device storage so locations are logged even when a user isn’t online.
- Malaysia – 14,167,690 downloads to 44,601,400 cellular subscriptions = 31.77% app penetration: Two contact-tracing apps are available in Malaysia–MySejahtera and GERAK MALAYSIA–with 10 million and 1 million downloads each, respectively. MySejahtera was developed by the Government of Malaysia to help them monitor users’ health conditions and facilitate contact tracing (through GPS). GERAK MALAYSIA, also a contact-tracing app, was discontinued at the end of July 2020 to make way for MySejahtera, but still remains on the Google Play store for download.
- New Zealand – 1,734,137 downloads to 6,400,000 cellular subscriptions = 27.10% app penetration: The NZ COVID Tracer, developed by the NZ Ministry of Health, has had over 1 million downloads on the Google Play store alone. It is the country’s official contact-tracing app which uses Bluetooth™ tracing alongside QR codes so users can easily log their visits to various places.
- Jersey – 33,535 downloads to 127,109 cellular subscriptions = 26.38% app penetration: Jersey COVID Alert is the official digital contact-tracing and exposure-notification application from the government. It uses Bluetooth™ and Exposure Notifications.
- Brunei – 128,628 downloads to 574,799 cellular subscriptions = 22.32% app penetration: BruHealth was released by the Government of Brunei to monitor residents’ health conditions and track their risk exposure through Bluetooth™ and GPS tracking features.
- Finland – 1,494,426 downloads to 7,150,000 cellular subscriptions = 20.90% app penetration: Developed by The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, Koronavilkku utilizes Bluetooth™ and Exposure Notification to alert users if they have been in contact with someone who has recently tested positive for COVID-19.
- Switzerland – 2,217,469 downloads to 10,927,300 cellular subscriptions = 20.29% app penetration: The SwissCovid app is operated by the Federal Office of Public Health FOPH and “will help to contain the new coronavirus.” Bluetooth™ technology helps identify whether or not users have been in contact with any with COVID-19 and/or alerts other users should they test positive for the virus.
- Guam – 19,799 downloads to 98,000 cellular subscriptions = 20.20% app penetration: Guam Covid Alert developed by the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services, offers contact-tracing through the Exposure Notification System.
A further 21 countries also have an app penetration of over 10%. This includes the United Kingdom where three separate apps have reached an estimated 11,760,828 people, 14.9 percent of the number of cellular subscriptions.
But in the United States, where around 37 apps (a large number have been developed on a state-by-state basis) are in operation, there is just a 2.47 percent app penetration. Just over 10,000,000 downloads have occurred to the 404.58 million cellular subscriptions.
Top 10 countries with the highest number of contact-tracing app downloads
While the above have the largest percentage of downloads to cellular subscriptions, not many have the greatest number of downloads. Rather, the following 10 countries have the highest number of users to have downloaded a contact-tracing app:
- India – 103,054,820 downloads across three apps (8.95% app penetration)
- Saudi Arabia – 19,970,893 downloads across two apps (48.36% app penetration)
- Germany – 15,593,521 downloads across two apps (14.55% app penetration)
- Vietnam, – 14,773,742 downloads across one app (10.84% app penetration)
- Japan – 14,361,151 downloads across one app (8.11% app penetration)
- Malaysia – 14,167,690 downloads across two apps (31.77% app penetration)
- Turkey – 11,905,446 downloads across one app (14.74% app penetration)
- United Kingdom – 11,760,828 downloads across three apps (14.90% app penetration)
- Colombia – 11,134,205 downloads across one app (16.8% app penetration)
- Argentina – 10,856,642 downloads across two apps (18.52% app penetration)
COVID-19 app survey: How do people feel about their privacy amid the pandemic?
To find out how the general population feel about their privacy when it comes to combatting the virus, we commissioned a survey of 1,500 people in the US and UK (3,000 in total) at the start of the pandemic (March/April 2020) to find out whether people are more willing to compromise on privacy in order to use such apps.
78% of survey respondents said they would be willing to sacrifice any or some of their usual privacy principles in order to help fight and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The survey was conducted by OnePoll, a UK-based market research firm.
Here are a few key stats from the survey:
- 78% of respondents would forego any or some of their usual privacy principles (e.g. sharing personal data with the government and other relevant third parties) in order to help fight and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- 44% would be willing to download an app that tracked their location to help the government collect useful information to plan its response to COVID-19. A further 26% would do so if the app was anonymous, despite it being less useful.
- 94% would be willing to provide their name, age, and gender to a COVID-19 tracking app if they exhibited symptoms.
- 62% would be willing to tell an app all of the places they’ve visited recently to alert others who might have been who might have been in the area. A further 25% would do so anonymously despite it being less useful.
- 58% would be willing to provide frequent location updates to a government app to confirm they’re sticking to quarantine restrictions. A further 24% would do so anonymously despite it being less useful.
The survey results revealed some other interesting trends when broken down by region, age range, and gender.
- Men were more willing than women to download contract tracing apps, forego their usual privacy principles, and provide the government with location updates
- Younger people were more likely to opt for anonymous apps and data collection than older people, despite anonymous data being less useful
- 25- to 34-year-olds were the most willing to forego their usual privacy principles to help combat COVID-19
People living in the Northeast and West regions of the US were, broadly speaking, more likely than the rest of the country to provide apps with identifying personal and location data. Those include hard-hit states with densely-populated cities like California and New York.
Similar variations were observed in the United Kingdom. Respondents in Northern Ireland, in particular, were significantly more likely to give apps personal information and compromise on privacy.
How will contact-tracing apps look in the future?
While contact-tracing apps will, hopefully, become less and less necessary as COVID-19 infection levels come under control through vaccination programs, the development of these apps may continue. As we’re already seeing, the addition of QR codes and other features are becoming more prevalent as governments introduce mandatory restrictions, tests, and vaccinations in order for people to access certain places.
Methodology and limitations
Our researchers searched through government websites and the Google Play store to find all of the contact-tracing apps available at present. The number of downloads (noted at varying levels, i.e. 1,000, 100,000+, and 1 million), were noted as the download figure for this app on Google Play. As Apple doesn’t provide download figures, these were then estimated using the % of users with the Android and iOS operating system on their phone using StatCounter.com.
For example, 10 million users are noted to have downloaded Germany’s Corona-Warn App. Of mobile users in the country, 63.67% have Android and 35.12% have iOS, resulting in a total of 98.79%. The 10 million was divided by 63.67% before being multiplied by 98.79% to give us an estimated number of downloads for the app. In this case, 15,515,942.
Where an app was only available on Google Play, the figure quoted on the store was used and no estimate applied. Should an app have only been available on the Apple App Store, no estimates have been created but the app has been logged.
WorldBank data was used for the number of cellular subscriptions in each country: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IT.CEL.SETS
In some cases, more than one app is available in each country, meaning there is a chance one user has downloaded more than one of these apps.