What you need to know
- The UK has rejected Apple and Google's contact tracing solution.
- It has decided to move forward with its own centralized approach.
- Security experts have expressed concern over privacy and performance.
Over the weekend, Germany decided to abandon its home-grown centralized contact tracing solution due to concerns about privacy and surveillance. That concern, however, has not swayed the United Kingdom.
In a new report from the BBC, the National Health Service has decided to move forward with its centralized contact tracing program, putting it at odds with Apple and Google's proposed solution.
A spokeswoman for NHSX, the health service's digital innovation unit, says that engineers have overcome some of the performance problems other countries have run into with running the app on an iPhone.
"Engineers have met several core challenges for the app to meet public health needs and support detection of contact events sufficiently well, including when the app is in the background, without excessively affecting battery life."
Professor Christophe Fraser, one of the epidemiologists advising NHSX, says that a centralized system does have its benefits. He theorizes that the system would be more easily adaptable than its decentralized counterpart.
"One of the advantages is that it's easier to audit the system and adapt it more quickly as scientific evidence accumulates ... The principal aim is to give notifications to people who are most at risk of having got infected, and not to people who are much lower risk ... It's probably easier to do that with a centralized system."
The NHS's decision has immediately drawn criticism from computer security experts, some of whom are even the ones tasked with building the app for the country.
"But hundreds of the country's cryptography and computer security experts have just signed an open letter calling on it to reconsider. Dozens of those opponents work for Inria, the institution tasked with building the app."
The United Kingdom joins France as one of the only countries in Europe to support a centralized model. Countries that have openly supported a decentralized approach include Switzerland, Estonia, Austria, and Germany.