UK Rejects Apple-Google Coronavirus Contact Tracing System
The UK health system will use a centralized approach, meaning the matching process will happen on a server rather than on individual phones.
The UK’s coronavirus tracking app will not use the contact-tracing technologies developed by Apple and Google, the BBC reports, opting for a centralized approach rather than the decentralized, privacy-focused one set out by the technology giants.
Apple and Google will release APIs allowing the iOS and Android operating systems to better communicate with each other so that governments can roll out contact-tracing apps, which alert you if you come into contact with someone who has contracted COVID-19. Under this system, your name and personal information is not revealed.
In developing its own app, the UK's National Health Service (NHS) has decided on a different approach. Instead of happening on your phone, the matching process will take place on a computer server. Speaking to the BBC, Professor Christophe Fraser, one of the epidemiologists advising NHSX (the government unit developing the app), said: “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 centralised system."
The UK is taking a different approach to that of Switzerland, Estonia, Austria and Germany. Germany was developing a centralized system, but swapped to a decentralized one. On the other hand, France is developing a centralized system, but hundreds of cryptography and computer security experts signed a letter against it — including those from the company building the app.
Adam Smith is the Contributing Editor for PCMag UK, and has written about technology for a number of publications including What Hi-Fi?, Stuff, WhatCulture, and MacFormat, reviewing smartphones, speakers, projectors, and all manner of weird tech. Always online, occasionally cromulent, you can follow him on Twitter @adamndsmith.