UK makes U-turn; to use Apple-Google contract-tracing API

In a major U-turn, the UK is ditching the way its current COVID-19 contact-tracing app works and shifting to a model based on technology provided by Apple and Google.

Apple-Google COVID-19 contact-tracing scheme

The Beeb:

The move comes the day after the BBC revealed that a former Apple executive, Simon Thompson, was taking charge of the late-running project.

The Apple-Google design has been promoted as being more privacy-focused.

However, it means epidemiologists will have access to less data.

And questions remain about whether any smartphone-based system reliant on Bluetooth signals will be accurate enough to be useful.

The UK follows Germany, Italy and Denmark among others in switching from a so-called “centralised” approach to a “decentralised” one.

MacDailyNews Take: To quote Camp Northstar’s head counselor Tripper, “It just doesn’t matter!” But, knock yourselves out, countries of the world, such pacifier apps might help some people in need of a bit of added confidence to go about their business.

Once again, 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 than 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.

More about the myriad issues of Bluetooth COVID-19 contact tracing apps can be found in our Takes
here, here and here.

2 Comments

  1. I have to disagree with the MDN take. This method is the first attempt to generate a meaningful automated exposure system using a device that by your own admission 80% of US population and 83% of the UK population has. It may not be particularly useful for this epidemic since it is being initiated too late in the day but will certainly help develop better strategies for the next time this happens (and it probably will).
    Like any type of survey there will always be issues with representation but 80% max potential reach is not bad and depending on how the system is implemented this could provide useful data and potentially help someone who has been exposed.
    Talking about implementation, I checked my own settings and the system cannot be activated until there is no app available. There is no guidance on what app to download. I already have the Apple Covid-19 app but that does not include the notification system and I won’t download any random app unless I know this is one that Apple has developed.
    I too value my privacy but also realize that sharing information during this time will help in the long term and may be of benefit to me as well.

    1. “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, you hope this will work on a grand scale.

      So, you will participate – as part of a minority too small to really be useful. Regardless, Bluetooth is nowhere near a perfect solution for this task.

      MDN is merely being practical. In France, only 2% of the population has downloaded their COVID-19 tracking app. In Singapore where they do as they’re told, they haven’t even cracked 25%.

      Hoping and wishing isn’t reality.

      CNET, April 2020: Tech isn’t solution to COVID-19, says Singapore director of contact tracing app

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