NHS contact tracing team reportedly mulls switch to Apple-Google API

Posted:
in General Discussion edited May 2020
In what could herald a course reversal for the UK's National Health Service, health officials in that country have reportedly asked a team of developers to "investigate" switching its contact tracing app to a cross-platform API provided by Apple and Google.

The NHS COVID-19 app, which includes mechanisms for contact tracing. Credit: BBC
The NHS COVID-19 app, which includes mechanisms for contact tracing. Credit: BBC


The NHS is this week scheduled to begin testing an in-house contact tracing solution as part of wider efforts to monitor and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Like France, the UK rejected an arguably more comprehensive API from Apple and Google in favor of a solution capable of storing user information in a central database.

It now appears that UK officials have contracted a Swiss development firm to refine the NHS contact tracing app before it sees mass circulation. According to documents seen by The Financial Times, that refinement also includes investigating the "feasibility" of implementing the Apple-Google technology.

The development company's work is described as a "two-week timeboxed technical spike" with a deadline of mid-May.

"We've been working with Apple and Google throughout the app's development and it's quite right and normal to continue to refine the app," an NHSX spokesperson told the publication. NHSX is the digital arm of the NHS and is in charge of developing the COVID-19 contact tracing app.

The decision to pass on the Apple-Google API was criticized by privacy advocates and technologists. Some of the concerns include the privacy implications of centrally stored data, as well as issues with Bluetooth running in the background on iOS.

Sources told The Guardian on Wednesday that NHS officials were "racing" to improve the privacy and security of its platform.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 10
    FatmanFatman Posts: 513member
    LOL - Love the Brits, but their gov't is just as screwed up as the US
    PetrolDaveolswilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 10
    Awesome! Everyone should use the same! 

    This is not a time to try and steal user date. 

    I'm looking at you France. 
    agilealtitudelolliverelijahgPetrolDaveolswilliamlondongilly33watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 10
    iqatedoiqatedo Posts: 1,761member
    Australia has had an app out for about a week now, maybe a little longer but apparently it doesn't pick up Bluetooth contacts reliably on the iPhone unless the app is currently running in the foreground. Authors claim it is not an issue on droid.

    Edit - Oh, just noticed this:

    https://forums.appleinsider.com/discussion/215727/
    edited May 2020 watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 10
    seanjseanj Posts: 301member
    Actually not looking as bad as first thought.
    Developed by Pivotal, a subsidiary of VMware and using algorithms from Oxford University.
    Seems to have gotten round issues suffered by other centralised apps. 
    Though integrating the Apple/Google technology would be a advantageous.
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-52551273
    edited May 2020 williamlondon
  • Reply 5 of 10
    kkqd1337kkqd1337 Posts: 383member
    What the British government have failed to understand is the most important thing is as many people as possible use this app if it is to be useful.

    More people will use it if they trust its authors. 

    Most people have an element of trust for their iOS author Apple/google

    Nobody, but the odd fool, will trust a poorly funded, poorly staffed, NHS digital department 
    olsgilly33watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 10
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    seanj said:
    Actually not looking as bad as first thought.
    Developed by Pivotal, a subsidiary of VMware and using algorithms from Oxford University.
    Seems to have gotten round issues suffered by other centralised apps. 
    Though integrating the Apple/Google technology would be a advantageous.
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-52551273
    As the writer pointed out, he was unable to test it thoroughly because the area he lives in doesn’t have a really dense population. 

    And it still doesn’t answer the question of what they’re storing and for how long. 
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 10
    indiekidukindiekiduk Posts: 369member
    NHSx is made up of big data academics, how can they publish their big data papers if they don't have any data?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 10
    gregalexandergregalexander Posts: 1,399member
    Is the Apple API ready to go? I thought it was getting released sometime this month. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 10
    seanjseanj Posts: 301member
    Rayz2016 said:
    As the writer pointed out, he was unable to test it thoroughly because the area he lives in doesn’t have a really dense population. 

    And it still doesn’t answer the question of what they’re storing and for how long. 
    Well that’s because Rory, the reporter, doesn’t live on the Isle of Wight where it’s being tested. But reports are it’s already been installed by over 20% of the population even though it’s only been available for a few hours. So we should know soon if it has issues, given the amount of reporters that have descended on the island gleefully looking for issues to report.

    As for what data is stored, it’s only going to be a fraction of what the social media giants, search engine owners, and Microsoft (if you use Windows) already have...
    edited May 2020
  • Reply 10 of 10
    bonobobbonobob Posts: 342member
    seanj said:
    Rayz2016 said:
    As the writer pointed out, he was unable to test it thoroughly because the area he lives in doesn’t have a really dense population. 

    And it still doesn’t answer the question of what they’re storing and for how long. 
    Well that’s because Rory, the reporter, doesn’t live on the Isle of Wight where it’s being tested. But reports are it’s already been installed by over 20% of the population even though it’s only been available for a few hours. So we should know soon if it has issues, given the amount of reporters that have descended on the island gleefully looking for issues to report.

    As for what data is stored, it’s only going to be a fraction of what the social media giants, search engine owners, and Microsoft (if you use Windows) already have...
    The social media giants, etc. cannot put me in jail if they don't like what I do.  Governments can, and once they have an app on your phone to collect some data, there's nothing to stop them from collecting more.
    jony0watto_cobra
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