The NHS says despite not following Apple and Google, its contact tracing app will work
What you need to know
- The UK's National Health Service is lining up to debut its contact tracing app.
- Efforts have been met with skepticism over its decision not to follow Apple and Google's decentralized model.
- Despite this, NHSX says that its engineers have met the challenges that this could cause.
The NHS has said that its UK contact tracing app will be functional and practical, despite the fact it has chosen not to go with Apple and Google's decentralized model of contact tracing.
As reported by ZDNet:
A spokesperson for NHSX (the digital arm of the NHS) has told ZDNet that engineers have used Apple and Google's standard API and that the app adheres to Bluetooth low energy. Where its plan differs, is in the use of a centralized database:
Apple and Google's solution would never collect any geographic data, nor would it feature a centralized database of user information. The NHS' decision not to go with Apple and Google's preferred model will mean that its app will not be able to run in the background, instead, having to be opened every time your phone detects another device running the software, a massive inconvenience, impractical, and a drain on battery life.
A spokesperson however stated:
As the report notes, there is clearly support for both possible approaches, Jim Killock of Open Rights Group told ZDNet that "it obviously seems, on the surface, a better approach to use Google and Apple's system" and that the NHS should have to give a very clear explanation as to why it couldn't make a solution more privacy-friendly.
On the other hand, Cambridge professor of security engineering Ross Anderson said that Apple and Google's approach would broadcast a warning to everyone, and that "99% of the time it's going to be a false positive." He also noted that Apple and Google's solution "is a huge opportunity for abuse." By using a central database, a questionnaire can ensure that someone reporting symptoms or a possible case can be assessed to ensure the information is correct. Anderson also said:
Recently, Germany has u-turned on its own centralized contact tracing effort, instead choosing to operate a decentralized model as advocated by Apple. It remains to be seen whether the NHS's own offering will be up to standard.
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Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.
Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9