Britain’s NHS rejects Apple-Google COVID-19 contact-tracing scheme

Britain’s NHS has rejected the Apple-Google COVID-19 contact-tracing scheme. The UK’s coronavirus contact-tracing app is set to use a different model, despite concerns raised about privacy and performance.

Britain's NHS rejects Apple-Google COVID-19 contact-tracing scheme

Leo Kelion for BBC News:

The NHS says it has a way to make the software work “sufficiently well” on iPhones without users having to keep it active and on-screen. That limitation has posed problems for similar apps in other countries.

Like the authorities in many other countries, NHSX has opted to use wireless Bluetooth transmissions to keep track of each qualifying meeting… It has opted for a “centralised model” to achieve this – meaning that the matching process, which works out which phones to send alerts to – happens on a computer server. This contrasts with Apple and Google’s “decentralised” approach – where the matches take place on users’ handsets.

The tech giants believe their effort provides more privacy, as it limits the ability of either the authorities or a hacker to use the computer server logs to track specific individuals and identify their social interactions.

This approach puts the UK at odds with Switzerland, Estonia and Austria’s Red Cross, as well as a pan-European group called DP3T, which are pursuing decentralised designs.
Germany had been in line with NHSX, but its government announced on Sunday it had switched tack to a “strongly decentralised approach”. That leaves France as one of the more vocal advocates of a centralised model.

MacDailyNews Take: The NHS’s centralized approach to COVID-19 contact-tracing is the wrong approach. Regardless, centralized or decentralized, the whole thing is pie-in-the-sky piffle.

Even if you forwent the smartphones (1 in 5 people don’t even have a smartphone in the U.S., for example; 1 in 6 in the U.K.) and instead sent a dedicated contact-tracing bracelet to every single person in the country, you’d still be stuck with widespread non-compliance, inability to force compliance in many countries, non-charged / forgotten / lost bracelets, Bluetooth issues, false positives, etc., etc., etc.

Contact tracing / exposure notification apps are nothing more pablum for the masses. It’s simply a case of governments wanting to be able to tell citizens, “Want to feel safe while getting back to work, shopping, going out to eat, vacationing, etc.? There’s an app for that.”

“Don’t worry. Be happy. Download this app and go about your business.”

Might these apps help in some cases to get the relatively few people who will use them to seek testing or self-quarantine if/when the alarm goes off? Of course. But, overall, these apps are little more than security blankets for the citizenry to clutch on their way to herd immunity and, for governments that use a centralized system, to track the spread of infections on the way to herd immunity.

8 Comments

  1. From what I’ve been reading, countries will have to mobilize armies of contract tracers to sufficiently track potential infections. Using phones is a nice idea, but probably would not cut it under any circumstances. Some things involving human behavior just don’t have a purely technological solution.

  2. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. California is mobilizing a small army of people to do tracing. If using the apps can help them do their job that is great. Some areas, like the SF Bay Area will have better coverage. Can’t be helped.

  3. Well, we know where MDN stands on the idea of contract tracing. I guess they checked with their resident epidemiologist about the value, or lack thereof, in this approach.

    Original headling: “NHS rejects Apple-Google coronavirus app plan

    1. No need for MacDailyNews to consult with an epidemiologist, they simply used their God-given common sense to think fo themselves.

      By the way:

      Reuters reported lastTuesday that only one in five people in Singapore — where they do what they’re told or pay a hefty, sometimes painful, price — which has rolled out an app similar to what experts are envisioning in the US, have signed up for the digital tracing app. That is nowhere near the 60% adoption rate experts think is necessary for digital tracing to have a measurable impact.

      MacDailyNews is entirely correct,: “These apps are little more than security blankets for the citizenry to clutch on their way to herd immunity and, for governments that use a centralized system, to track the spread of infections on the way to herd immunity.”

      1. Just a little ‘what if’ herd immunity doesn’t really work for CV19? It’s not proven yet that everyone who gets infected gets a full compliment of antibodies.
        People who really care about their welfare-being and their fellow men, should simply wear a mask at all times in public.

  4. I tend to agree on the MDN take. The exception is that I suspect the real aim is to like polling get enough info on infection and spread to extrapolate figures within the community that they can use statistically to predict the path to herd immunity or at least assess the risk of relaxing lockdown or progress as they do so.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.