The Covid Symptom Study app is run by health science company Zoe and shares the data it collects with King’s College London.
But it faced criticism over the weekend after users received “inappropriate” adverts from Cefinn, the label founded by the wife of the former prime minister David Cameron.
The firm has released a new capsule collection of face coverings in support of The Covid Symptom Study.
An email sent to those who have signed up to the study says the app is “proud” to work with Cefinn, and features a photograph of Cameron modelling the brand’s Rust Circle Geo Print mask, which is currently sold out. It’s priced at £25.
The email, which was screenshotted and shared on Twitter, 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.”
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.
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. pic.twitter.com/VJoLqPhAGG
— KateMaltby (@KateMaltby) October 17, 2020
I wasn’t ‘offended’ @Join_ZOE It’s not about offence. You abused my trust and if you misinterpret this as ‘offence’ that can be dealt with by a ‘sorry if you were offended’ statement then you’re even further from getting my trust back. Pls do some long overdue patient involvement https://t.co/ijjNqk0lcu
— Margaret O’Hara (@Know_HG) October 18, 2020
In response to one Twitter user, Zoe tweeted: “We apologise for any offence caused.
“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.”
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 COVID19 research which we did ! Thanks for your continued support https://t.co/Jf98HKZb40
— tim spector (@timspector) October 18, 2020
A follow-up email included a message from Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, who is leading the research, who admitted the partnership “wasn’t the right thing to do”.
He wrote: “I wanted to get in touch today to apologise for the email you received on Saturday from us about the face coverings.
“We have listened to the valuable feedback that we’ve received from you, our contributors, and now understand that this wasn’t the right thing to do. We thought selling donated masks for charity would be a good opportunity to raise money for long Covid research. However, we did not consider the implications of working with a commercial company.
“I want to personally apologise for this, and assure you that all of us here at the Covid Symptom Study will learn from this experience. Without you, our loyal contributors, none of our scientific discoveries or hotspot detection would be possible. We are incredibly grateful for your commitment.
“We also want to reassure you that we haven’t shared your personal details with any commercial companies, and we never will. This email was, as always, sent by Zoe, the healthcare company behind the app.”