Apple, Google reportedly at odds with UK NHS over centralized contact tracing

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Apple and Google are reportedly in a standoff with the UK's National Health Service due to its specific plans for mobile contact tracing.

The Apple and Google contact tracing API relies on a decentralized method for collecting data.
The Apple and Google contact tracing API relies on a decentralized method for collecting data.


On Friday, the two tech firms announced a joint venture to build out a privacy-protecting and Bluetooth-based development framework that health organizations could use to build apps to track and curb the spread of coronavirus.

As part of its privacy protocols, Apple and Google are requiring health organizations avoid a centralized database of user data. That's something the NHS's digital arm, the NHSX, originally planned to do with its app, The Guardian reported.

The API, as it's designed, is meant to track whether a person has come into contact with someone infected with COVID-19. The decentralization protocol is meant to prevent governments from building a surveillance system to track the movements of people on a wider scale.

But if an app doesn't adhere to Apple and Google mandates, it won't be able to take advantage of the benefits. Instead, it will face severe limitations. Without the Apple and Google API, an app is only able to access Bluetooth when it's actually running in the foreground, requiring an app's display to stay unlocked and on to work properly.

Those measures are meant as a privacy safeguard to protect against apps surreptitiously tracking users without their consent.

Prior to the Apple and Google announcement, the NHSX has been hopeful that smartphone makers would lift those restrictions for contact tracing apps.

It's a similar problem that Singapore's TraceTogether app ran into -- its Bluetooth tracking didn't work in the background. Reportedly, only 12% of Singapore's population had downloaded the app, far below the 60% many experts say is required for it to be effective.

For its part, the NHSX denied claims of a "standoff" with the tech giants.

"This suggestion is completely wrong. Everyone is in agreement that user privacy is paramount, and while our app is not dependent on the changes they are making, we believe they will be helpful and complementary," a spokesperson said.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,669member
    Seems a lot smarter to avoid a centralised database. The Apple/Google method seems to provide the same facility to inform users they have been close to an infected individual, without tracking the entire population. Considering there seem to be no downsides to the Apple/Google method, the only conclusion here is that the NHSX wants to used this as a backdoor to track individuals at a whim. 
    caladanianrazorpitOfersteven n.Andy.Hardwakerossb2
  • Reply 2 of 11
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,669member
    In fact this doesnt really even need the involvement of government. Apple and Google could release this and the NHSX would be pushed aside and pretty much forced to use this data instead.
    caladanianrazorpitOfersteven n.Andy.Hardwakerossb2
  • Reply 3 of 11
    Government’s (USA,UK) would really like a tracker implanted in people’s skull (exaggerating in 2020, but maybe not in 2030).
    ... with expansion capabilities to hearing people’s thoughts.

    I remember the FBI director giving a lecture on this a few years back (reading thoughts, not the implant).

    I wasn’t able to find it. But here’s something similar:
    https://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security/discriminatory-profiling/fbi-wants-schools-spy-their-students-thoughts

    Apple and Google creating a freedom friendly framework, is a very good thing.


    elijahgrossb2
  • Reply 4 of 11
    mdriftmeyermdriftmeyer Posts: 7,503member
    The only part of this article that matters.

    For its part, the NHSX denied claims of a "standoff" with the tech giants.


    "This suggestion is completely wrong. Everyone is in agreement that user privacy is paramount, and while our app is not dependent on the changes they are making, we believe they will be helpful and complementary," a spokesperson said.



    chasm
  • Reply 5 of 11
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 13,377member
    The whole idea of tracking possibly infected people is appalling.   It doesn't matter if it is Apple or some government, nothing good will come for this.   Beyond that I really believe that governments in general have gone absolutely nuts with their response to the Wuhan virus.   In simple terms the rights of a few are being given excess sway over the population in general.   The few here being the medical profession that wants the lock down to make their life a bit easier.  
    rossb2
  • Reply 6 of 11
    wizard69 said:
    The whole idea of tracking possibly infected people is appalling.   It doesn't matter if it is Apple or some government, nothing good will come for this.   Beyond that I really believe that governments in general have gone absolutely nuts with their response to the Wuhan virus.   In simple terms the rights of a few are being given excess sway over the population in general.   The few here being the medical profession that wants the lock down to make their life a bit easier.  
    Well you win my prize for dumbest post on this thread. The medical profession wants the lock down to make their life a bit easier. Dear me. Give your head a shake and have a look at yourself. 
    aderutterelijahg
  • Reply 7 of 11
    No matter who makes the app or apps, it ain't being installed on any of my devices.

    I'm one of those deemed most at risk of getting CV-19 so I'm quaranteened at home for at least the next 9 weeks anyway. I'm going nowhere and even if I did, half the time, I forget to take my phone with me. If I'm in the car or on the bike, it gets switched off anyway so tracking is pointless (illegal to use a phone if driving a car and when riding a motorcycle, it is just stupid to even try). Not that I'm using either at the moment though.
  • Reply 8 of 11
    crowleycrowley Posts: 10,453member
    wizard69 said:
    The whole idea of tracking possibly infected people is appalling.   It doesn't matter if it is Apple or some government, nothing good will come for this.   Beyond that I really believe that governments in general have gone absolutely nuts with their response to the Wuhan virus.   In simple terms the rights of a few are being given excess sway over the population in general.   The few here being the medical profession that wants the lock down to make their life a bit easier.  
    Medical professionals are dying in droves even as they are trying to fight this thing.  Get over yourself.
    elijahg
  • Reply 9 of 11
    Given the U.K. NHS has a terrible record over IT security there is no way I would trust them to keep a central database secure from hacking. If we accept that contact tracing is going to be helpful in preventing a second round of COVID-19 infection then IMHO the Apple/Google approach is the only viable one at present.
    aderutterelijahgrossb2
  • Reply 10 of 11
    gc_ukgc_uk Posts: 110member
    elijahg said:
    Seems a lot smarter to avoid a centralised database. The Apple/Google method seems to provide the same facility to inform users they have been close to an infected individual, without tracking the entire population. Considering there seem to be no downsides to the Apple/Google method, the only conclusion here is that the NHSX wants to used this as a backdoor to track individuals at a whim. 
    The NHSX app employs the same decentralised method as Apple and Google. It even stars this in the article. 
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