Frequently asked questions

Why should I download this app?

The app helps with contact tracing which is vital for slowing the spread of the virus, and for making sure the virus stays at low, manageable levels. It enhances existing contact tracing and quickly alerts app users that are at risk because they have come into close contact (less than 2m for 15 minutes or more) with an app user that has since tested positive for COVID-19.

The more people in Scotland that download, use the app and follow the advice on any alerts, the more effective it will be, and the more potential there is to reduce the number of local lockdowns that are required. The app signposts to existing guidance on NHS Inform, Ready Scotland and the Scottish Government website, including on what to do if you receive an alert and are advised to self-isolate.

Do I have to download this app?

No – the use of the app is entirely voluntary, and if you do download it you can delete it at any time. You will never be required to use it. However, it offers you the opportunity to further support identification of people at risk of COVID-19 through the easing of lockdown and it provides additional help for contact tracers. There is good evidence from other countries that an app of this kind can help detect unknown cases and we believe this app will help us to prevent and manage future outbreaks. Therefore, if you are at least 16 years old and are currently in Scotland, we would encourage you to download it and update the app if you get a positive test for COVID-19.

What do I need to download and use the app?

You need a smartphone that uses either the Apple (iOS) or Google (Android) operating systems. For Apple users, the app will work on all iPhones capable of running iOS 13.5 (all iPhones from the 6S and up released since 2015). For Android users, it will work on any android phone that has at least Android 6.0 (all Android phones released since 2015). Therefore, the app cannot be used on older phones, on which it is not possible to upgrade the operating system.

You may also need to ensure you have updated your phone so that the exposure notification system, which is provided by Apple and Google, is available for the app to use. Your phone will tell you if you need to do this when you download Protect Scotland from Google Play or the Apple app store.

After you have downloaded the app, you don’t have to do anything except ensure you keep Bluetooth (and location if you are an Android user) on. The app has been designed to be installed and forgotten about – it will just work in the background. You will only have to open the app again if you test positive for COVID-19 and are provided with a code to enter into the app, or of the app alerts you that you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, when it will advise you on what to do next.

The app also has a feature allowing you to let your friends and family know about the app by sharing a link to this website. We would encourage you to encourage others to download the app so that together we can all protect Scotland.

How many people need to download the app for it to work?

The evidence for this is changing all the time, with growing international evidence, including from a recent Oxford University study, suggests that Protect Scotland has the potential to reduce infections, hospitalisations, and deaths at almost any level of adoption, showing that the technology can act as a complement to existing countermeasures. Generally, the more people who download and use the app, the better it will work, helping make connections you may have otherwise missed. This will allow people to self-isolate quickly if they are exposed to the virus, reducing the risk of them infecting others, and reducing the likelihood of future local lockdowns.

How does the app work?

We have deliberately made the app as simple as possible, focusing only on anonymous Bluetooth proximity tracing. See how it works for a full overview of how the app works.

Why do I have to be at least 16 to use the app?

This is aligned with existing policy for testing and contact tracing, whereby under current arrangements for testing and contact tracing anyone under the age of 16 requires parental consent.

Anyone under the age of 16 will therefore be discouraged from using the app as part of the set up process. However, we are reviewing this to explore whether it might be suitable for people under the age of 16, as we recognise the benefits of the app to younger people. If this position does change, we will communicate this widely.

What does the app not do?

The app has been designed to be as simple as possible. It does not:

  • Ask individuals to register or provide personal information to download, install or operate the app
  • Track the user’s location and/or who they have been with (see how we use your data for further information)
  • Share any information with other agencies, e.g. The Home Office
  • Track symptoms or provide medical advice. For that, you should continue to use NHS Inform or download the NHS 24 Coronavirus (COVID-19) app
  • Enable users to book a test directly via the app but it will signpost to relevant information to book a test if appropriate

What is the role of Apple and Google – and is my data shared with them?

The Protect Scotland app, like every other similar ‘decentralised’ public health app across the world, relies on the ‘exposure notification system’ jointly developed by Apple and Google. This is a function on your phone. Exposure notifications are only carried out on the user’s device. Apple and Google will not receive identifying information about the user, device location data, or information about any other devices the user has been in proximity with. In addition, there will be no monetisation from this project by Apple or Google. Consistent with well-established privacy principles, both companies are minimising data used by the system and relying on users’ devices to process information.

Access to this exposure notification technology has been granted only to public health authorities/Governments. Protect Scotland had to meet specific criteria around privacy, security, and data control before Apple and Google approved the app for public use. Google and Apple will disable the Exposure Notifications System on a regional basis when it is no longer needed.

You can read more on the role of Apple and Google.

What happens if I don’t have a smart phone or can’t get access to the app?

We know that not everyone has a smart phone or will be able to or want to access the app. The app will function in addition to person to person contact tracing which will remain the main way of identifying and alerting close contacts of those who have tested positive with COVID-19. It does not require the whole population to use the app in order for it to provide additional benefit to Test & Protect and Scotland as a whole, though we encourage as many people to download it as are able.

Does the app run solely on Bluetooth or does it require internet access via mobile data/WiFi?

The app communicates with other phones solely by Bluetooth – that is how the exposure notification system developed by Apple and Google works. However, for the app to communicate with NHS Scotland’s servers, a very small amount of data is transferred every day. It is estimated to be less than 1MB per month, so will not impact on data allowances. For more information, see how it works.

How does a nearby app user know another app user has tested positive?

If an app user receives a positive test themselves through the existing testing process already in place in Scotland, they can agree for the app to let other app users that have been nearby know using a non-identifiable, randomly generated code. This allows the nearby app user to take appropriate action. For more information, see how it works.

How will the app users get the non-identifiable, randomly generated code?

When an app user tests positive a contact tracer will contact them and ask if they are willing to share this information anonymously with their contacts. This is done using a non-identifiable, randomly generated code produced by a secure backend server which the contact tracer sends to them. For more information, see how it works.

What happens if I have been in contact with someone who has tested positive?

At the point where an app user receives a notification that they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, the app will advise the user to self-isolate in line with current guidance. This advice will include links to 1) advice on self-isolating, 2) the National Assistance helpline 3) the NHS24 symptom checker. Testing is not advised at this stage – a user who receives a notification should only request a test if they start to develop symptoms.

Will I be able to get a test through the app?

No. The app will, however, signpost to appropriate routes for testing.

If I have the app do I still need to sign in to pubs and restaurants?

Yes – the app is just one part of our Test & Protect measures.

Will the app work if my Bluetooth is off?

No – the app requires Bluetooth (and location for Android users) to be switched on in order to run effectively. For more information, see how it works.

Will the app run on transport including underground trains and aircraft?

Yes, and transport is the ideal place to use the app, particularly trains, buses and ferries, as you will not know who most of your fellow passengers are. As the app runs on Bluetooth, no internet signal is required so it will also work underground and on aircraft. This includes when your phone is switched to ‘flight mode’ (although Android users will have to switch Bluetooth back on when they enable flight mode). For more information, see how it works.

How does the Bluetooth feature work, and is it effective at measuring distance?

The Exposure Notifications System harnesses the power of Bluetooth technology to aid in exposure notification. Once enabled, users’ devices will regularly send out a beacon via Bluetooth that includes a random Bluetooth identifier — basically, a string of random numbers that aren’t tied to a user's identity and change every 10-20 minutes for additional protection. Other phones will be listening for these beacons and broadcasting theirs as well. When each phone receives another beacon, it will record and securely store that beacon on the device.

We know that the greater the distance between the sending and receiving devices, the weaker the signal. Protect Scotland, like other apps of a similar nature, uses signal strength to approximate distance between two phones. This is challenging due to Bluetooth signals being different between types of phones with different components, and the different effects of physical location within buildings.

The Northern Ireland Digital team have reviewed the testing and evidence and built their app that we further adapted to use probability. The app combines the probability that the user was within a sufficiently close distance to one or more people who since tested positive for the virus with the duration of the interactions, and triggers alerts accordingly with advice to self-isolate.

The accuracy of this system has been tested and is considered to be sufficiently accurate in identifying the distance at which someone might be more at risk of COVID-19. This technology continues to improve, and we will work in conjunction with governments, developers and Apple and Google to refine the system based on technology developments and close monitoring of performance.

Who can see my data?

No-one can see your data. Scotland has chosen to build the Protect Scotland app on the Google Apple Exposure Notification System as it does not collect information on the user's identity or location data. We have also chosen not to include any additional features in the app that capture user data. This system ensures that no one sees either their own, completely anonymised and non-identifiable data, or anyone else’s data.

The app does not track you or know you are. Only completely anonymous data is stored in the users mobile phone, and is only stored in a public registry if the user decides to share their anonymous data. For more information, see how we use your data.

Will this app work outside Scotland?

Not to begin with, no. We anticipate Protect Scotland working with the equivalent apps in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland & Gibraltar by the end of September once the necessary legal agreements are in place. We continue to liaise with the UK and Welsh Governments to ensure appropriate arrangements are considered for when their app becomes available in England and Wales.

As the Protect Scotland app is based on an emerging European standard for interoperability between Google / Apple based systems it is likely to be possible to integrate with any other app that embraces the same approach to interoperability.

Where I live is currently subject to additional local measures. Should I continue to use the app?

Yes, you should continue to use the app in these circumstances. The areas which may be subject to additional local measures as a result of outbreaks of coronavirus (COVID-19) are likely to fluctuate over time. You can find out what restrictions are in place if you live, work or travel in the affected areas at https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-COVID-19-local-measures. As the app cannot be tailored to where you live, if there are any variations to, for example, approaches to self-isolation, then please follow the guidance applicable to your local areas.

If you live in an area that is not affected by additional local restrictions you should continue to follow the general staying safe guidance.

I wear PPE at work, should I use the app?

There are very few circumstances where it is advised to turn the app off. Whilst proximity measurements to identify potential contacts cannot take account whether the encounter is face to face, or whether there are face coverings or screens in place etc., they are a good measure of the distance and time spent near a confirmed case which would put you at risk if no other mitigations are in place.

All app users should therefore keep their phone on and with them whenever possible, with the app active on their phone at all times except in the following small number of circumstances:

  • If the user is a health or social care worker in a clinical setting, wearing medical grade PPE. This includes ambulance personnel
  • If the user is protected by a fixed physical barrier from customers and colleagues such as a Perspex screen for the majority of the working day. This doesn’t apply for those who constantly move around (e.g. café workers behind tills with a screen who also move around the café)
  • If the user keeps their phone in a locker or equivalent facility at work and not on their person

In these circumstances, ideally individuals should turn off their phone as that means the app will automatically continue to work when the phone is turned back on again.

However, it is recognised that that is not always possible so alternatively users can choose to disable Bluetooth. It is also possible for users to turn off the Exposure Notification Setting on their mobile phone. This will turn off the ‘contact tracing' functionality until the Exposure Notification Setting is switched back on. The user will need to remember to turn their Exposure Notification Settings and/or Bluetooth back on.

If you receive a close contact alert advising you to self-isolate, but believe you meet one of the above scenarios, you can call the National COVID helpline (0800 028 2816) to help you understand the exposure notification and make an informed decision as to whether to self-isolate.

The app should NOT be switched off in the following scenarios:

  • Where PPE, including visors and face coverings, is used in non-clinical settings (e.g. building sites, café’s, transport, by fire and police personnel etc.)
  • In the home or vehicles (signals from adjoining properties or vehicles are unlikely to result in a contact alert)

Exposure Notification can no longer be turned on after updating to iOS 14?

Some users have reported that after updating to iOS 14 that Tracing has been disabled and can no longer be turned on.

This problem has already been reported to our developers. If you encounter this issue please uninstall and reinstall the app. The Random IDs that you have collected will not be lost.

Will my battery drain more quickly with the app running?

The Exposure Notification API from Apple and Google uses the energy-efficient BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) technology to detect other app user’s mobile phones. The battery consumption of the Protect Scotland app is made up of two factors: the consumption of the app itself and the consumption used to record encounters via BLE.

When interpreting your battery consumption, please note that the percentage refers to the full use of your phone in the last 24 hours. This means that a frequently and intensively used phone has a very low percentage of battery consumption per app. Whereas, if you use your phone mainly to make phone calls and only occasionally stream music or use social media, the percentage per app will be relatively high.

Note for Android phones: Exposure Notification on Android mobile phones needs both Bluetooth and location turned on to be able detect other app user’s mobile phones. The Protect Scotland app neither uses nor has permissions to use location.

This does however mean that other apps on your mobile phone could also use location when it is turned on, which might be the reason for higher power consumption. To avoid this, you should check which apps use your location. Go to Settings\Security & Location\Location\App level permissions here you can deny other apps permission to use your location if you don't think they need it. Since the Protect Scotland app doesn't need this permission, it doesn't appear in the list.

I missed the alert pop-up message, how can I check whether I have an alert?

If you have switched off notification on your phone, or clear the notification without tapping on it, you can check the status of alerts from within the Protect Scotland app.

Open the app and check the tracing status section of the home page. If there is a green “Tracing Active” button, you have no close contact alerts and can carry on your day as normal.

UI of App

However, if the status is showing as a red “Close contact Alert” button, you have an active alert and should tap on the button and then the “Action required” box on the Tracing page to open up the Exposure Advice page for information on what to do next.

UI of App when user has an alert Action required UI element

I get the following message when trying to set the app up: “Please check that you have a network connection and try again”?

This error may appear when you are setting up the app for the first time. In most cases this is caused by the time or date not being correct on your mobile. Please set your Date and Time to automatically update and try to set up the app again (see notes below):

On Android mobiles - Settings\General Management\Date and time\ turn on “Automatic date and time”

On iPhones - Settings\General\date and time\ turn on "Set Automatically"

Note: This error can also occur if you have rooted your mobile (removed restrictions to allow access to low-level functions).

As an employer/business, how should I use Protect Scotland?

We would ask you to encourage its use, and support your employees who may receive an alert via the app. We have prepared a range of stakeholder material, including posters, along with further details on how you as an employer can use Protect Scotland, which you can find on stakeholder and partners.

We recognise you may have other questions. We will add any new questions and answers as they arise. If you do have questions which are not covered by this website, then please contact testandprotect@nhs.scot.

Help stop the virus. Download the app today.

By voluntarily choosing to use the Protect Scotland app, alongside existing public health and contact tracing measures, you can help to stop the spread of the virus in Scotland.

Help family members to download the app, encourage your colleagues to use it and share it with friends.

If we all play our part, we can all help protect ourselves, our families and Scotland against coronavirus.