One of Britain’s leading alcohol charities has been criticised over the relaunch of its popular lifestyle app that wiped the drinking history of its users along with red-flag warnings of harmful consumption.
Funded by the industry, Drinkaware promotes its alcohol consumption app to help curb excessive drinking and monitor consumption. The app, which was launched in 2014, has had more than 600,000 downloads.
But since the relaunch on 30 August, some users have complained that more than four years of drinking consumption logged on the app have disappeared, along with the estimated financial cost of heavy drinking sessions. The app has since had more than 100 one-star reviews, the lowest possible rating, on the Apple app store.
David Eckhoff, 59, a public relations executive and author of the novel The Royal Factor, said: “[The app’s] totally unusable and I’ve given up recording my alcohol consumption on it. I lost all my data. If they are serious about helping people with alcohol consumption, this is a complete dereliction of duty.”
The charity said it had received more than 540 complaints from users after the relaunch. It admitted “sensitive” data did disappear, but said it was not permanently deleted and that it had been working to restore the information.
The developers have told hostile reviewers on the Apple app store and the Google Play store that the wiped data is being “migrated” back to the apps. “We apologise for the lag,” said a Drinkaware response posted on 22 October. “There was a large amount of very sensitive information that we took lengths to protect.”
“Absolute shambles,” said one user. “Like many other reviews, I have lost all my previous data.” Another wrote: “Why did you update the app with no warning and lose all my data? Some of us really rely on that data as a means of keeping track and empowering ourselves not to drink.” Another said: “Where is the motivation to track week after week, month after month, year after year, when you only show a two-week comparison?”
Others said they were ditching the app because it no longer provided a monthly comparison of alcohol intake or carried warnings on previous excessive consumption of more than 50 units a week, equivalent to about five bottles of wine. The charity said the cost of drinking was removed because it was not a popular feature with users.
Government guidelines for alcohol consumption for men and women advise it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis, equivalent to seven medium-sized glasses of wine. Nearly one in four UK drinkers regularly exceed these guidelines.
Drinkaware was set up as a website in 2004 by the Portman Group, a drinks industry organisation. It became a separate charity in January 2007 and is funded by voluntary donations from the drinks industry.
Last year, Drinkaware received voluntary donations of £5.5m from alcohol producers, retailers and sports bodies. Its public aims are to reduce alcohol misuse and harm.
The charity faced controversy in 2018 when Sir Ian Gilmore, one of the country’s most respected experts on the effects of alcohol, resigned from an advisory role at Public Health England in protest at a partnership with Drinkaware because of its links to the alcohol industry.
The charity said it had restored data to those who had requested it and anyone with missing data should make contact. It also said that its funders had no involvement with the changes in the app and were never asked to approve any aspect of the charity’s work.
Drinkaware added that the app needed updating, but it was looking at further improvements, including bringing back a 28-day drinks total. “We know some loyal and committed users of the old app haven’t appreciated the changes we’ve made. We’re listening to their concerns,” the charity said in a statement.