An update for the NHS Covid-19 app was blocked by Apple and Google. IPhone and Android users will not have access to the planned features as lock restrictions are gradually increasing in England and Wales. The team behind the NHS contact tracking app had planned that the latest update would coincide with the new rules that would allow hairdressers, gyms, and non-essential retail stores to reopen.
The NHS Covid-19 app can be downloaded for free on the iPhone Here and Android Here, is designed to stop the spread by tracking when you have been in close contact with someone who has the virus. It uses bluetooth to keep track of people around you.
With the latest update, the Department of Health had encoded the NHS Covid-19 app to upload a backlog of their check-ins, which are treated with the large QR codes outside of shops, pubs and restaurants when they test positive. This information, which tracks what places they have visited while they may be infected with the virus, is used to warn others.
However, Apple and Google have expressly forbidden this functionality. This limitation was there from the start.
Apple is the creator of iOS, the mobile operating system that powers every iPhone model worldwide, while Google develops Android, which is used and customized by dozens of different manufacturers, including Samsung, Sony, LG, OnePlus, Nokia, Oppo, and Google’s own Pixel Range of smartphones. iOS and Android are the most popular smartphone operating systems in the world – and the partnership between Apple and Google should enable contracts between as many people as possible to be traced. The system developed by the two Californian rivals is intended to anonymize and protect the privacy of smartphone owners.
MORE LIKE THAT
The NHS COVID-19 app has fixed “worrying” messages sent to the iPhone and Android
If your smartphone is in the immediate vicinity of an iPhone or Android owner who later tests positive for coronavirus, you will be warned by Apple and the Google system. The NHS app, which is based on this system, uses a “risk assessment” algorithm to determine the likelihood that you may have contracted the coronavirus.
If the system thinks this is unlikely – you may have been on a platform while you were in the carriage of a train that stopped next to you – you will not receive any further notifications from the app. If there is reason to believe that you may have Covid-19 – for example, if you’ve been around and in close proximity for an extended period of time – the app will ask you to self-isolate.
Why was the NHS Covid-19 app update blocked?
The problem with the latest update from the Department of Health was that the government was able to get a history of your movements. By sharing the venue check-in information after a positive test, the government can keep a detailed track of your recent moves from the shops you visited that morning to the restaurants and pubs. This is something that Apple and Google don’t want their technology to be used for.
While the system can alert users who were in close proximity to someone who later tests positive, this information is not shared with other organizations or governments.
In order to be able to use the system developed by Apple and Google, which is provided free of charge, the health authorities must agree not to collect any location data with the contact tracing software. After all, it is easy to see how this data can be maliciously used by governments and law enforcement agencies around the world.
Because the last update submitted to Apple and Google for the NHS Covid-19 app violated these rules, iPhone and Android users did not receive the update as planned today. Instead, Apple and Google continue to make the previous version available in the App Store and the Google Play Store, respectively.
When asked why the terms of the technology were changed, the Ministry of Health declined to discuss how the misstep occurred. Instead, a spokesman told the BBC: “There has been a delay in providing the functionality of the NHS Covid-19 app, which allows users to upload their venue history. This has no impact on the functionality of the app, and we are continuing discussions with ours Provide partners with useful updates to the app that will protect the public. “
Scotland avoided the blockade by offering two apps for the public. While Protect Scotland uses the privacy-driven system from Apple and Google, it also offers Check In Scotland, which is based on its own system that shares event history with the authorities.
The UK government initially eschewed Apple and Google’s free contact tracing system due to the focus on privacy. By developing its own rival system, the UK government wanted to keep the location data of smartphone owners.
The proposed app, which cost £ 12 million to develop and took three months to develop, could not accurately detect the contact between iPhone and Android due to the Bluetooth restrictions imposed on the operating system by Google and Apple. The purpose of this restriction is to prevent applications running in the background (i.e. not always on the screen) from constantly checking Bluetooth connections to keep an eye on nearby users. This is a privacy issue. Would you really like Facebook, for example, to keep an eye on everyone you passed on the street today? However, the limitation is also intended to prevent any serious drain on battery life. Unfortunately, the feature prevented the NHS app from finding 25 percent of Android phones and 96 percent of iPhone owners.
As such, it was scrapped and the UK government took advantage of the freely available option from Apple and Google, albeit more limited due to location data restrictions.
The UK wasn’t the only country that opposed the privacy-centric approach developed by Apple and Google. Germany, Italy and Denmark also tried to create their own system that would work just as effectively as that of the Silicon Valley companies behind the system.