A coronavirus symptom tracking app has been criticised for promoting face masks designed by Samantha Cameron’s fashion label, with several users stating they did not expect to receive marketing emails when they signed up.
The Covid Symptom Study app, launched by health science company ZOE, has been created by doctors and scientists, the firm says on its website.
“Data collected is shared with and analysed by King’s College London and ZOE research teams,” the company states, with the research being led by Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London.
On the FAQs section of ZOE’s website, it outlines that the data of people who use the app “is protected under GDPR, and can only be used for the purpose that you consent to”, adding that this means “it can only be used for medical science and to help the NHS” and not for “commercial purposes”.
On Saturday 17 October, several people expressed their surprise when they received an email explaining that the Covid-19 symptom study that they had signed up to had partnered with Cefinn, the fashion label launched by Ms Cameron, wife of former prime minister David Cameron, in 2017.
The email, which was screenshotted and shared on Twitter multiple times, read: “We are proud to announce that we have partnered with womenswear brand Cefinn to bring you a collection of beautiful limited edition silk face coverings.
“100 per cent of sales from the sale of Cefinn masks will go toward funding the groundbreaking research that is being conducted at King’s College London to understand the long-term effects of Covid-19.”
The silk and silk blend face masks sold by Cefinn cost £25 each.
Several people who received the email outlined their anger on Twitter, with one person saying that they found it “inappropriate” and another describing it as “deeply unsavoury”.
“Pretty sure I didn’t sign up to the Covid symptom study in the expectation of getting an advert in my inbox for a women’s fashion label,” one person said.
“There is something very inappropriate about this, and not only because it’s social PR for a business run by the wife of a former PM.”
“Just got an email from that @KingsCollegeLon Covid symptom tracker app that seems… deeply inappropriate?!” someone else remarked.
“This app was promoted by @KingsCollegeLon in news stories and online in March/April as being one of the few trackers used by researchers (and I believe its data *has* been very valuable), but it’s DEEPLY unsavoury for it to be so tied to marketing like this.”
One person who received the email said they were “utterly appalled”, while another said that the company had “abused their trust”.
In response to one Twitter user, ZOE tweeted: “We apologise for any offence caused.”
The company added: “Please rest assured that your data was not shared with anyone, and that the intention behind this campaign was to raise money (100 per cent of the sales).”
In another reply, the firm wrote: “We apologise for the mishandling of this fundraising activity and eroding of your trust. We are listening to all of the voices who have shared feedback and will learn from this mistake.”
Professor Spector also tweeted in response to the criticism, writing: “Sorry to those of you who got upset about our face mask offer – thanks for your feedback which we will learn from.
“Our intention was simply to raise more charitable funds for our Covid-19 research which we did! Thanks for your continued support.”
The Independent has contacted Cefinn, ZOE and King’s College London for comment.