The NHS has rejected the model proposed by Apple and Google, for the coronavirus contact tracing app, even though there have been significant concerns raised about both the performance and privacy of their solution.
There has been a growing international consensus that coronavirus contact tracing should be managed through a decentralised system, however, the NHS has decided to go with their own version running on centralised British servers.
Both solutions use bluetooth to work out when other phones are in proximity and they will log when people are in proximity for a period of time that is longer than permitted.
GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre experts have been involved in the process, with the NCSC indicating it has only had an advisory role, saying: “Engineers have met several core challenges for the app to meet public health needs and support detection of contact events sufficiently well, including when the app is in the background, without excessively affecting battery life,” said a spokeswoman for NHSX, the health service’s digital innovation unit.
In a recent blog post, the CEO of the National Health Service’s tech unit NHSX Matthew Gould said: the application will launch “in the coming weeks,” adding it “could be important in helping the country return to normality and beating coronavirus.”
An epidemiologist advising NHSX, Prof Christophe Fraser told the BBC: “One of the advantages is that it’s easier to audit the system and adapt it more quickly as scientific evidence accumulates,”
“The principal aim is to give notifications to people who are most at risk of having got infected, and not to people who are much lower risk.
“It’s probably easier to do that with a centralised system.”
The NHS has stressed that they will protect people’s privacy, despite, saying: “The data will only ever be used for NHS care, management, evaluation and research,” the blog post stated.
“You will always be able to delete the app and all associated data whenever you want. We will always comply with the law around the use of your data, including the Data Protection Act and will explain how we intend to use it.
“We will be totally open and transparent about your choices in the app and what they mean. If we make any changes to how the app works over time, we will explain in plain English why those changes were made and what they mean for you. Your privacy is crucial to the NHS, and so while these are unusual times, we are acutely aware of our obligations to you.”
The NHS is one of the most trusted brands and institutions in the UK, but the uptake of this app is going to be determined by how much people are willing to allow the service and government to track their health and movements.