Wednesday, February 21, 2024

UK Scraps COVID-19 Tracing App; Seeks Apple/Google Format

The Government of the United Kingdom scrapped the COVID-19 contact tracing smartphone NHS app that was being worked upon.

According to a statement released by Hancock, the government has decided to abandon the prototype app and is instead focusing on developing a special interface jointly developed by Apple and Google, which itself had problems. He further said, “Our app won’t work because Apple won’t change their system, but it can measure distance.” “And their app can’t measure distance well enough to a standard that we are satisfied with.” Some of the technical problems include manual contact tracing, level of infection control amongst others.

UK Unable to Tackle Rising COVID-19 Cases

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Britain, UK has recorded the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe, at over 42,000, and the Conservative government has received backlash for its slow response to fight the deadly pandemic. Authorities in Britain are now trying to harness a new technology to be able to tackle new COVID-19 cases as the lockdown is being lifted. There are several contact tracing apps available in Europe that use low-energy Bluetooth signals to secretly log anyone who comes within close contact to a user — generally two meters for 15 minutes or more.

Privacy Issue

Initially Britain had decided to design its own “centralized” tracing app that would lead data about contacts to government servers for analysis. The NHS app is part of a broader British “test, track and trace” program that includes 27,000 people hired to track down anyone who’s been in contact with an infected person, so they can be asked to get tested or to self-isolate. The app raises alarming privacy concerns and is under scrutiny.

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Apple and Google’s system stores the personal data on users’ devices. It updates the software on billions of phones so if an individual alerts the system that s/he has Covid-19, people who have been near them get an alert saying they may be at risk.

The Android version of the British app was fairly accurate at identifying other devices, but the Apple iPhone version wasn’t as it picked only 4% of contacts. The problem is that Apple’s iOS doesn’t let apps use Bluetooth in the background, thus fail in scanning other users.

UK authorities started developing a second app in parallel that uses the Google-Apple interface, Hancock said. The new version though was on point in detecting other users, it, failed to give the right information regarding the location and distance. Hancock further added, “We’ve now got problems with both versions but there’s parts of each that can come together to build something that’s stronger than either version.”

Other European nations such as Germany, Switzerland, and Italy along with some US states have embraced the Google-Apple system, which practices a “decentralized” approach to ensure privacy as well as safety of data stored in the phone.

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