The Government is scrapping the current version of its track and trace app over privacy concerns, switching to a system developed by Apple and Google.
Contracts worth £4.8m had reportedly been awarded to the developer VMWare Pivotal Labs for the abandoned a three-month attempt undertaken by the UK Government to create their own version of the technology.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS would switch to an alternative designed by Apple and Google. At the Downing Street briefing,he said the government would not put a date on when the new app may be launched. The original plan as highlighted by Boris Johnson said on the 20th of May was:
“We have growing confidence that we will have a test, track and trace operation that will be world-beating and, yes, it will be in place by June 1.”
At the Downing Street briefing, Hancock said:
“Apple software prevents iPhones being used effectively for contact tracing unless you’re using Apple’s own technology. Our app won’t work because Apple won’t change that system… and their app can’t measure distance well enough to a standard that we are satisfied with. What matters is what works. Because what works will save lives.”
It is understood that he is referring to reports that the Government developed app could only detect four percent of iPhones it came into contact with, compared with 75 percent of Androids. In contrast, iPhones running the Apple-Google system spotted 99 per cent of handsets.
As we reported in May, the much anticipated coronavirus contact tracing app failed cyber security, performance and clinical safety tests. Concerns regarding the app’s privacy and information governance have been discussed nationally.
The concept is based on letting users report if they’re experiencing symptoms and the app will then notify other users if they’ve been in contact with an infected user. If a user tests positive then this will trigger an alert to others informing them that they were in close proximity to someone with COVID-19.
According to the NHS, the app is planned to give the public a simple way to make a difference and to help keep themselves and their families safe.
“Once you install the app, it will start logging the distance between your phone and other phones nearby that also have the app installed using Bluetooth Low Energy. This anonymous log of how close you are to others will be stored securely on your phone.”
Health is a devolved issue, as such this app is currently for England only. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have yet to commit to the app but are able to do so should they choose to be involved.