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Understanding Trust and Changes in Use After a Year With the NHS COVID-19 Contact Tracing App in the United Kingdom: Longitudinal Mixed Methods Study

Pepper, Cecily; Reyes-Cruz, Gisela; Pena, Ana Rita; Dowthwaite, Liz; Babbage, Camilla May; Wagner, Hanne; Nichele, Elena; Fischer, Joel E


Cecily Pepper

Gisela Reyes-Cruz

Ana Rita Pena

Camilla May Babbage

Hanne Wagner

Professor of Human-Computer Interaction


Background: Digital contact tracing (DCT) apps have been implemented as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Research has focused on understanding acceptance and adoption of these apps, but more work is needed to understand the factors that may contribute to their sustained use. This is key to public health because DCT apps require a high uptake rate to decrease the transmission of the virus within the general population. Objective: This study aimed to understand changes in the use of the National Health Service Test & Trace (T&T) COVID-19 DCT app and explore how public trust in the app evolved over a 1-year period. Methods: We conducted a longitudinal mixed methods study consisting of a digital survey in December 2020 followed by another digital survey and interview in November 2021, in which responses from 9 participants were explored in detail. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the interview transcripts. This paper focuses on the thematic analysis to unpack the reasoning behind participants' answers. Results: In this paper, 5 themes generated through thematic analysis are discussed: flaws in the T&T app, usefulness and functionality affecting trust in the app, low trust in the UK government, varying degrees of trust in other stakeholders, and public consciousness and compliance dropping over time. Mistrust evolved from participants experiencing sociotechnical flaws in the app and led to concerns about the app's usefulness. Similarly, mistrust in the government was linked to perceived poor pandemic handling and the creation and procurement of the app. However, more variability in trust in other stakeholders was highlighted depending on perceived competence and intentions. For example, Big Tech companies (ie, Apple and Google), large hospitality venues, and private contractors were seen as more capable, but participants mistrust their intentions, and small hospitality venues, local councils, and the National Health Service (ie, public health system) were seen as well-intentioned but there is mistrust in their ability to handle pandemic matters. Participants reported complying, or not, with T&T and pandemic guidance to different degrees but, overall, observed a drop in compliance over time. Conclusions: These findings contribute to the wider implications of changes in DCT app use over time for public health. Findings suggest that trust in the wider T&T app ecosystem could be linked to changes in the use of the app; however, further empirical and theoretical work needs to be done to generalize the results because of the small, homogeneous sample. Initial novelty effects occurred with the app, which lessened over time as public concern and media representation of the pandemic decreased and normalization occurred. Trust in the sociotechnical capabilities of the app, stakeholders involved, and salience maintenance of the T&T app in conjunction with other measures are needed for sustained use.


Pepper, C., Reyes-Cruz, G., Pena, A. R., Dowthwaite, L., Babbage, C. M., Wagner, H., …Fischer, J. E. (2022). Understanding Trust and Changes in Use After a Year With the NHS COVID-19 Contact Tracing App in the United Kingdom: Longitudinal Mixed Methods Study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 24(10), Article e40558.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 16, 2022
Online Publication Date Oct 14, 2022
Publication Date 2022-10
Deposit Date Nov 28, 2022
Publicly Available Date Dec 6, 2022
Journal Journal of Medical Internet Research
Electronic ISSN 1438-8871
Publisher JMIR Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 24
Issue 10
Article Number e40558
Keywords Health Informatics
Public URL
Publisher URL


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