Google says a fix for Android contact tracing app issues is on its way

NHS COVID-19 app
NHS COVID-19 app (Image credit: Android Central / Alex Dobie)

What you need to know

  • Google is investigating a worldwide outage affecting its contact tracing technology.
  • Its Android Exposure Notifications System is down, causing apps to load slowly and preventing contact tracing.
  • Google says it has rolled out a fix for this issue.

Update, January 13 (09:25 am ET) In an update, Google has confirmed that its Android Exposure Notifications System is experiencing issues affecting Android Apps Worldwide.

Update, January 13 (03:10 pm ET) Google says a fix has been deployed, though not everyone may see it immediately.

Many Android users in the UK are reporting a glitch with the NHS COVID-19 app this morning, causing it to show a permanent "Loading..." notification that can't be dismissed. Restarting or force-closing the app, or rebooting your phone doesn't fix the problem.

NHS COVID-19 is the official contact tracing app for England and Wales, and uses Apple and Google's exposure notification system to alert those who may have been in contact with an infected person. A quick Twitter search shows many app users experiencing the glitch, and it's also been reported by several people on the app's Github issue tracker over the past 12 hours.

It's not the first time the NHS's COVID apps have experienced technical issues. Back in November, it froze on the "Loading" screen for many iPhone owners. And in earlier in the fall, some users were given alarming "phantom" notifications about possible exposure, which subsequently vanished.

"Loading" notifications of the kind people are seeing today appear briefly as a part of the app's normal operation, but usually vanish after a couple of seconds. Aside from being mildly annoying, there's nothing to suggest this particular glitch affects anything else about the app's functionality. Given the large numbers of users experiencing the issue, it's likely a fix will be on the way pretty quickly.

Some on Twitter are suggesting muting notifications from NHS COVID-19 as a workaround, but we wouldn't recommend this, as you may miss important exposure notifications in future. (That's the whole point fo the app, after all.)

We've reached out to the app's representatives on social media, and we'll update this story with any further developments.

Update, January 13 (09:25 am ET) — Google says that its Android Exposure Notifications System is experiencing issues affecting Android Apps Worldwide

According to The Verge Google is working to investigate an issue with its Android Exposure notifications System, and that the problem is causing apps to load more slowly and is affecting regular contact checks. In a statement Google said:

"We are aware of an issue affecting Android apps developed using the Android Exposure Notifications System. Our engineers are investigating the issue."

The Verge further notes that, beyond initial reports of problems with the NHS COVID-19 app in England and Wales, the issue is affecting apps worldwide.

Update, January 13 (03:10 pm ET) — Google says a fix has been deployed

Speaking to The Verge, a Google spokesperson confirmed a fix was on its way and would hit devices over the next few hours, delivering the following statement:

Late in the evening on January 12, an issue with the Exposure Notifications System on Android began causing delays in the checking of potential exposures for those with apps installed. We have issued a fix. It may take a few hours for devices to catch up, and in some cases we will work directly with developers to help with recovery. The issue did not cause the loss of any data or potential exposures.

Google told the company that the main issue "was with the signature key configuration, which meant exposure notification apps ran into issues downloading diagnosis keys from their key servers." Users are warned not to clare the cache or storage of their apps even as the fix contnues to roll out.

Alex Dobie
Executive Editor

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.