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Response to Denzil_DC (Original post)

Sat Jun 20, 2020, 10:33 AM

2. What went wrong with the UK's contact tracing app?


After months of work, the UK has ditched the way its coronavirus-tracing app works, prompting a blame game between the government and two of the world's biggest tech firms. So what went wrong?

On 10 April came a surprising announcement from Google and Apple. The two tech giants - on whose software virtually all the world's smartphones depend - said they were going to develop a system that would help Bluetooth contact-tracing apps work smoothly. But there was a catch - only privacy-focused apps would be allowed to use the platform. Apple and Google favoured decentralised apps, where the matching between infected people and their list of contacts happened between their phones. The alternative was for the matching to be done on a central computer, owned by a health authority, which would end up storing lots of very sensitive information.

The app the NHS was developing was based on a centralised model, which the Oxford scientists felt was vital if the health service was to be able to monitor virus outbreaks properly. But immediately privacy campaigners, politicians and technology experts raised concerns. "I recognise the overwhelming force of the public health arguments for a centralised system, but I also have 25 years' experience of the NHS being incompetent at developing systems and repeatedly breaking their privacy promises," said Cambridge University's Prof Ross Anderson.

Around lunchtime on 18 June all became clear. The BBC broke the story that the government was abandoning the centralised app and moving to something based on Google and Apple's technology. Despite all the spin, the Isle of Wight trial had highlighted a disastrous flaw in the app - it failed to detect 96% of contacts with Apple iPhones.

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