The UK is to adopt Google and Apple’s technology for its coronavirus contact-tracing app after several months of trying to pursue its own course, the BBC reports.
The UK has avoided basing its contact-tracing app on the tech giants’ software, because it wanted to pursue a more “centralized” approach that gave it greater access to people’s data.
However, sources highlighted a number of technical issues that faced the UK app, such as getting its underlying Bluetooth mechanism working properly.
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The UK will abandon its own approach for its coronavirus contact-tracing app, and instead adopt technology on offer from Apple and Google, the BBC reports.
The move marks a u-turn from the UK, which began developing its contact-tracing app in March but has continually delayed a full rollout. The app forms part of the UK’s wider coronavirus test and trace program, which will alert people if they have spent an extended amount of time near others showing virus symptoms.
The government is expected to confirm the switch today.
The app’s development got off to a rough start after the government was blindsided by a joint announcement from Google and Apple in April that the two tech giants would offer APIs — software building blocks — for any health agencies or governments building contact-tracing apps. The Google-Apple approach is thought to be more privacy-oriented, since it relies on storing data in a “decentralized” way.
The UK decided to pursue its own course and persisted with a “centralized” approach, sources told Business Insider, because it wanted to gather and analyse more data from its app than the Google-Apple model permitted. The thinking was that the government and the UK’s health service could learn more about the coronavirus with access to more data.
This led to various technical difficulties, including the app’s functionality with Bluetooth. In May cybersecurity experts also found a number of security flaws with the app after the government released its source code.
The UK government started trialling the app on the Isle of Wight, an island off the south coast of England with a population of 141,000, in early May. When the trial was announced cabinet minister Michael Gove said the app would become available more widely later that month. However, ministers and officials overseeing the project have repeatedly rolled back that timeline, most recently stating that the app wouldn’t be ready before the winter.
The UK was one of the handful of European countries including France and Germany to reject the Google-Apple API when it was first announced. Germany also initially rejected it quickly reversed its position, and its Google-Apple API-backed app went live this week. France forged ahead and released its own app without the Google-Apple API on June 2.
Sources with knowledge of the app’s development told Business Insider in April that it was widely expected the UK government would change approach. One said at the time: “Everyone expects the [Department of Health] to rewrite their app to use the API, and claim victory.”
One simply commented today: “Not surprised.”
This is a developing story…
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