NEWS19 June 2020

UK drops centralised contact tracing app

Covid-19 Healthcare Mobile News Privacy Technology UK

UK – The UK government will stop work on its Covid-19 contact tracing app and switch to a more ‘decentralised’ approach, based on technology designed by Apple and Google.

Covid contact tracing app nhs_cop

The NHS app, developed as part of the UK’s ‘test and trace’ approach, was being tested in a pilot on the Isle of Wight.

Using Bluetooth signal technology, the app used a ‘centralised’ approach, in which data on who may potentially have Covid-19 was sent to a central computer server.

Trials for the app began at the beginning of May and health secretary Matt Hancock said it would be deployed nationally in mid-May.

A launch date for the new app has not been confirmed.

Last month, Apple and Google jointly launched an application programming interface (API) that can be used by public health agencies in public contact tracing apps if certain conditions are met.

The Department of Health and Social Care said in a press release yesterday ( 18th June) that it had ‘identified challenges’ with both the NHS app and the Apple/Google software, which it claimed does not currently estimate distance in the way required.

“While it does not yet present a viable solution, at this stage an app based on the Google/Apple API appears most likely to address some of the specific limitations identified through our field testing,” the DHSC said.

A number of experts have warned that the use of digital tools for coronavirus infection tracking could compromise privacy and data security. Elsewhere, Norway has suspended its contact tracing app after the country’s data protection authority issued a temporary ban on processing personal data collected by the app, citing privacy concerns.

Baroness Dido Harding, executive chair of NHS Test and Trace and Matthew Gould, chief executive, NHSX, said in a joint statement: “Our response to this virus has and will continue to be as part of an international effort. That is why as part of a collaborative approach we have agreed to share our own innovative work on estimating distance between app users with Google and Apple, work that we hope will benefit others, while using their solution to address some of the specific technical challenges identified through our rigorous testing.”