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Purpose: In April 2020, it was announced that NHSX, a unit of the UK National Health Service (NHS) responsible for digital innovation, was developing a contact tracing app that would offer a digital solution to managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the urgency with which the app was developed, a clear commitment was made to designing the technology in a way that enshrined key ethical principles, and an ethics advisory board (EAB) was established to provide timely advice, guidance and recommendations on associated ethical issues. Alongside this, there were extensive criticisms of how NHSX adhered to ethical principles in the handling of the app development-criticisms that require empirical exploration. This paper explores how ethics was incorporated into decision-making during governance processes associated with the development of app. Design/methodology/approach: Interviews were conducted with those involved in the app's development/governance, those with a consulting role associated with the app, or those who sat on the EAB. Findings: The EAB fulfilled an important role by introducing ethical considerations to app developers. Though at times, it was difficult to accommodate key ethics principles into governance processes, which sometimes suffered from little accountability. Originality/value: While several articles have provided overviews of ethical issues, or explored public perceptions towards contact tracing apps, to the best the authors, knowledge this is the first empirical piece analysing ethics governance issues via stakeholder interviews.

Original publication




Journal article


International Journal of Health Governance

Publication Date