Google to launch fix for battery drain affecting Covid Tracker Ireland app

10 Aug 2020

Image: Luke Maxwell/

Google is set to patch an issue causing significant battery drain in some Android phones running the Covid Tracker Ireland app.

After Android phone users reported significant battery drain over the weekend when running the Covid Tracker Ireland app, the HSE has said that a fix could be released as soon as today (10 August). While the issue did not appear to affect all Android users, a number of posts on social media gained traction over the past few days reporting significant, sudden battery drain.

It is believed that the problem lies with a recent update to the Google Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) API, which the app is built on.

The HSE and the developers of the app, Nearform, said in a joint statement that they have identified the problem and that “Google are working with us to fix it as quickly as possible”.

Harmful remedies

Covid Tracker Ireland on Android, like all apps connected to Google Play Services, makes contact with Google servers at least every 20 minutes to share data. This feature has been highlighted before as a reason for significant battery drain on Android phones.

Over the weekend, Twitter users attempted to fix the issue with the Irish contact-tracing app by clearing their Google Play Services cache, with some reporting that this helped slow battery drain. However, other users suggested deleting the app temporarily.

This approach could harm the app’s ability to conduct contact tracing as deleting it from your phone will also delete the random IDs generated through Bluetooth ‘handshakes’ registered between devices in the past 14 days.

These handshakes occur when two people are within two metres’ distance for more than 15 minutes. If a person voluntarily logs in the app that they have been diagnosed with Covid-19, anyone who was in close contact with them would be notified anonymously. As part of GAEN’s design, all random IDs are automatically deleted after 14 days.

Number of downloads

While Android users can opt to turn off Google Play Services, users of the Covid Tracker Ireland app and other similar apps cannot turn it off if they want the contact-tracing element to work. Google has said in the past that limiting access to Google Play Services will affect how key aspects of apps function overall.

At the time of writing, 1,579,360 people have downloaded the app, with the HSE aiming for 60pc of the country to eventually download the app to improve contact-tracing efforts.

The HSE said this week that 780,000 Android phones have downloaded the app and 86,000 have uninstalled and not re-installed the app.

The latest figures show that 137 users of the app have received close contact alerts, with 129 of those speaking with the HSE’s contact-tracing team. Since going live in July, 58 people have confirmed using the app that they had tested positive for Covid-19.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic