MOST people in the UK support the introduction of an immunity passport system and would use privacy-encroaching tracking technology, academics have found.

A new study, published today, shows that more than two thirds of people would accept smartphone tracking in some form if it would help relax coronavirus restrictions.

Despite this, researchers say it has not borne out when looking at the number of people who have downloaded official government apps for track and trace purposes.

Researchers asked people if they would be willing to use various tracking apps in two online surveys last year to conduct their study.

One scenario was an app, using smartphone tracking data to identify and contact those who may have been exposed to people with Covid-19, which was optional to download.

In the second, this app was compulsory for all mobile phone users and enabled the Government to use the data to locate anyone violating lockdown laws and enforce them with fines and arrests.

About 70% of participants accepted the opt-in app and 65% accepted the mandatory version with tighter enforcement.

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, chair in cognitive psychology at the University of Bristol and author of the study said: “Attitudes were surprisingly permissive and this is good news for public health.

“But there appears to be a significant gap between what people say they’re willing to do and what they actually do, which needs further investigation.

“Lack of uptake is a big problem because such systems need more than half – 56% – of the general population on board to be effective in helping control a pandemic.

“As of the end of last month, nearly 21 million people in the UK had downloaded the (NHS Test and Trace) app, which is more than 10 million below target for it to work properly.

“There could be many reasons for this, which could be technological barriers, confusion, or simply lack of awareness.

“But the fact respondents were very receptive and open to such tools should be encouraging and indicates while people don’t want to throw away their privacy, they are willing to make compromises perhaps for the greater good.”

The research was conducted in March and April 2020, with 3500 people taking part.

While 7 in 10 people said they were willing to download a privacy-encroaching app, when the option for all data being deleted after two weeks was introduced, acceptance levels rose to more than 75%.

This increased to more than 85% when the option to opt out was provided on top of the two-week deletion period.

The second survey also explored attitudes towards immunity passports, which could be issued to people who carry Covid-19 antibodies.

More than 60% of those who took part in the study said they would want one, with only 20% strongly opposed to the idea, mainly on grounds of fairness.

Professor Lewandowsky said: “It’s fascinating how people seem increasingly receptive to their personal data being used to inform themselves and others about what they can and can’t do.

“As a follow-up, it would be beneficial to know whether people have relaxed their privacy attitudes as an exception due to the emergency situation or if our findings show a wider acceptance of privacy-encroaching technologies, for example continuous monitoring of your power consumption at home or tracking of location by law enforcement authorities.”

The research is part of an international project, with similar surveys being conducted in countries including Australia, the US, Taiwan, Japan, Switzerland, Germany and Spain.