UK backtracks, now taps Apple-Google contact tracing model

This news comes a little over a month after the UK said it would opt for a centralized contact tracing model in lieu of Apple-Google's decentralized one.
By Laura Lovett
11:35 am
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It’s been a rocky road for the UK’s contact-tracing app. The U.K. is now turning back to using Apple and Google’s tracing model, BBC first reported.

This news comes a little over a month after the U.K. announced its plans not to use Apple and Google’s much-anticipated contact-tracing tool, as originally planned, according to the BBC. At the time, the NHSX – which works on the UK’s digital health efforts – proposed a centralized system, rather than Apple and Google’s decentralized system for tracing. 

Apple’s Simon Thompson will be taking the reins of the project in the U.K., according to the report. 

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Apple and Google’s tracing API, which first went live in late May, uses Bluetooth technology, and aims to help public health agencies deploy apps that tell individuals when they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

The companies stress that the tool does not collect location data and that individual users ultimately decide whether or not to report their positive COVID-19 diagnosis through the public health agency's app.

WHY IT MATTERS 

While the number of coronavirus cases is still largely unknown, the World Health Organization is reporting over eight million cases to date, with over 440,000 deaths. 

Governments and public health organizations have scrambled to stop the spread. Over the spring, contact-tracing apps have been pitched as a way to help alert individuals to if they have been exposed. 

However, contact-tracing efforts have had somewhat of a mixed response, with privacy remaining at the heart of the debate. 

“Contact tracing apps collect and combine two highly sensitive categories of information: location and health status,” Ryan Calo, a professor of law at the University of Washington, and Kinsa CEO Inder Singh, said during a US Senate committee hearing on big data and privacy protections. “It seems fair to wonder whether these apps, developed by small teams, will be able to keep such sensitive information private and secure. To the extent digital contact tracing – or any private, technology-driven response to the pandemic – involves the sharing of healthcare data with private parties, there is also the specter of inadequate transparency or consent.”

THE LARGER TREND 

The U.K. is hardly the only government looking to contact apps to curb the spread of coronavirus. The Indian government has created its own tracing app, dubbed Aarogya Setu, and is requiring that employers make their staff download the app. 

In the Asia Pacific region, Singapore launched one of the first Bluetooth-enabled apps, called TraceTogether, to help support and supplement current contact-tracing efforts in the nation-state in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Norway's contact-tracing app, called the Smittestopp, was temporarily banned due to privacy concerns from the Norwegian Data Protection Authority. Back in May, an Amnesty International investigation found Qatar’s mandatory COVID-19 tracing app had a weakness in its configuration that could have left it open to cyberattacks. 

 

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