UK Government abandons Covid-19 track and trace app, switches to Apple and Google model

  • The UK government has abandoned its controversial Covid-19 tracing app, and will instead be going with a model prodivded by Apple and Google.

    Many countries around the world effectively went into lockdown following the Covid-19 outbreak, and many are now working to safely ease their lockdown restrictions. The UK went into lockdown to prevent the number of cases overwhelming NHS hospitals and get transmission of the virus under control, and in recent weeks has been making changes to re-open certain businesses.

    Any plan to lift the lockdown will need to replace that safety net with something else in order to keep the transmission rate of the virus down (to keep the R value below 1), and the strategy that's working in many countries is a programme of social distancing, mandatory mask-wearing, and tracking infection cases to tell people to self-isolate.

    The UK government caused some controversy when it announced a different track-and-trace plan than most other countries, including Ireland. Most countries are developing apps that use a decentralised method to detect when your phone is close to other phones and record an ID for that phone. When a person is confirmed to have contracted Covid-19, alerts are sent to anyone who recently came into close contact with that person warning that they may have been exposed.

    Phones are not normally able to track people this closely in the background as there are severe privacy concerns involved, so Apple and Google both developed special updates for iOS and Android devices to allow official coronavirus apps to use the system. The UK decided to instead develop its own app that used a centralised database so that it could record the tracking data on millions of individuals to use later.

    A trial of the app on the Isle of Wight faced serious problems when it became clear it could recognise only 4% of nearby iPhones, and the app had difficulty judging distance using signal strength as many other factors can affect signal strength.

    The government has now ditched its plans to use its own contact tracing solution and will be developing a new system based on Apple and Google's technology. The new contact tracing app may not be available until Autumn, and may not include the track-and-trace feature on launch.

    Source: BBC News

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    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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