UK coronavirus tracing app adopts Apple-Google model


The UK has shifted its coronavirus contact tracing app to Apple-Google Exposure Notification technology which has been touted as more decentralized and privacy-focused model.

The UK National Health Service (NHS) tested both centralized and decentralized systems against each other over the course of the past month, the BBC reported on Friday.

Germany, Italy and Denmark are among other countries to have switched from centralized approach to a decentralised one for their contact tracing apps.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that original plan might have worked had it not been for Apple’s restrictions on third-party apps’ use of Bluetooth.

“Apple software prevents iPhones being used effectively for contact tracing unless you’re using Apple’s own technology,” he was quoted as saying.

“Our app won’t work because Apple won’t change that system… and their app can’t measure distance well enough to a standard that we are satisfied with. What matters is what works. Because what works will save lives,” Hancock added.

Google said it has developed an application programming interface (API) with Apple rather than a fully-fledged app.

“We have developed an Exposure Notification API with Apple based on consultation with public health experts around the world, including in the UK, to ensure that our efforts are useful to authorities as they build their own apps to limit the spread of Covid-19, while ensuring privacy and security are central to the design,” said a Google spokeswoman.

The UK government in May asked software developers to look and help switch to the Exposure Notification technology offered by the US tech giants.

The about-turn is result of privacy watchdogs criticizing the UK’s government’s decision to go alone on its contact tracing app that “will be less effective than incorporating Apple and Google’s software, while also gathering too much personal information in a central database,” The Financial Times reported.

The NHS app “has also raised concerns about whether the UK app will be compatible with those under development by other countries which are using the Apple and Google”.

The framework proposed by Apple and Google is a decentralised one, meaning that the tracking information will not be stored in a central server.

In their latest update, Apple and Google have stated that their exposure notification apps (earlier called contact tracing apps) are prohibited from seeking permission to access users location services.

Use of the Application Programming Interface (API) will be restricted to one app per country to promote high user adoption and avoid fragmentation.

If a country has opted for a regional or state approach, the companies are prepared to support those authorities, the tech giants said in a statement.

On April 10, Google and Apple announced a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of COVID-19 through contact tracing, with user privacy and security core to the design.



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