Apple and Google Partner On COVID-19 Contact Tracing TechnologySource: Apple

What you need to know

  • The UK has announced a new 'hybrid' contact-tracing app with Apple and Google's tech.
  • The government announced it would be merging some of its technology with Apple and Google's.
  • This came as a surprise to Apple.

After agreeing to switch to Apple and Google's exposure notification technology, the UK's approach to its contact-tracing app continues to cause confusion amongst those involved in the development process.

Matt Hancock, the UK's Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, announced that it would be working with Apple and Google to create a hybrid version of its contact-tracing app that used its homegrown distance measuring technology with Apple and Google's exposure notification technology.

Reported by BBC News, Hancock said that the UK had uncovered issues with Apple and Google's technology when measuring the distance between devices. This news, however, was apparently new to Apple.

"During the briefing, Mr Hancock said: 'Measuring distance is clearly mission critical to any contact-tracing app.' However, speaking to the Times, Apple said: 'It is difficult to understand what these claims are as they haven't spoken to us.' The firm also pointed out that the tech was already either in use or intended for use in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Ireland."

A spokesperson for Apple also said that it was not aware of the hybrid model that Hancock announced, saying that UK had not discussed it with them.

"The tech giant also expressed surprise that the UK was working on a new version of the contact-tracing app which incorporated the Apple-Google software tool. 'We've agreed to join forces with Google and Apple, to bring the best bits of both systems together,' Mr Hancock said. However, Apple said: 'We don't know what they mean by this hybrid model. They haven't spoken to us about it.' It told the BBC it had nothing further to add."

To makes things even more confusing, a spokesperson for the government says that they would be working to bring the UK's distance measuring technology into the app developed by Apple and Google, an app that does not exist.

"A Downing Street spokesman said the government continued to work closely with both Apple and Google on the app, and had done so since development began. 'We've agreed with them to take forward our work on estimating distance through the app that we've developed and work to incorporate that into their app,' he said."

Apple and Google have not built a contact-tracing app, but an API that health agencies can use to incorporate the companies' exposure notification technology into their own apps. Apple and Google plan to eventually build this technology directly into iOS and Android.