The NHS or National Health Service in the UK is going full speed ahead with the release of its COVID19 contact tracing app. The release comes after weeks of back and forth of comments from the UK and the EU calling Apple and Google’s API “decentralized” when it prefers a “centralized framework.”
To make matter’s worse, the NHS has shunned Apple and Google’s “decentralized” framework in favor of a “centralized” approach, meaning data is processed on a central database instead of on the smartphone itself.
While the Apple-Google model protects people’s privacy, it also limits how much data the authorities can see. If the NHS builds the app itself then it can access all the data and tweak the app as and when it sees fit.
The app from the NHS has drawn stark criticism already, even before release. The govenremnt and app developers claim “that privacy has been built into the voluntary app.”
However, when speaking in parliament, the CEO of NHSC, the branch of the NHS working on the app says he is unable to provide a list of who will have access to user data. Gould said, “I can’t give you a definitive list of exactly who would have access to the data.” He added that “proper procedures” will be put in place to abide by all laws pertaining to the data.
The app works similarly to the Apple and Google API. It uses Bluetooth to track phone-to-phone connections and creates a log within the app of who a user has been in close proximity too. If someone signals they’ve tested positive for COVID19, it will track who that person was in contact with and notify them.
There are wider concerns. There is currently very little evidence that such apps work, with an arguable success in Singapore. Beyond that, these apps are entirely voluntary. People may choose not to use it, or still be concerned over how private their data really is. The government is hoping to change that, with UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock saying:
“By downloading the app, you’re protecting your own health, you’re protecting the health of your loved ones and the health of your community,”
The app will roll-out in batches, with the first bunch for Isle of Wight’s,, with the wider UK getting the app in a few weeks