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Government U-Turn On Covid-19 Contact Tracing App

Sun Jun 21 2020

Amidst a multitude of delays, as well as dozens of warnings from both Cyber Security and GDPR experts, the Government has finally abandoned its centralised approach to COVID-19 data collection, instead adopting the approach championed by Google and Apple.

The Government have announced they’ve abandoned their centralised contact tracing app in favour of the decentralised API originally created by Google and Apple.

Former Apple Exec, Simon Thompson, has been appointed to take the project forward.  

 

Both Cyber Security and Privacy First experts have welcomed the move, after vocal criticisms of the earlier system being used that was storing data in a centralised NHS database.

That criticisms focused into an open letter to the Government, sent back in April, in which 117 academics and sector leaders spelt out, step by step, the dangers to data security, personal privacy and scope creep of a centralised approach to data collection.

However, at the time the Government pushed back, arguing to epidemiologists would find their centralised approach much more useful, allowing for pinpoint accuracy in identifying geographically sudden upsurges in infections of the coronavirus as well as allowing for software updates in real time.

These updates were planned to reduce the amount of false-positive/false-negative infection conformations. It was thought the data could also be retained for future research.

 

The new decentralised app will allow for encrypted data to remain on an individual’s smartphone, thus providing much stronger privacy protection and anonymity with the Google/Apple API making the app much more compatible with approaches taken by other countries.

The app has suffered from low uptake due to privacy (trust) issues and it’s hoped this new approach will alleviate some of those issues.

 

It’s been reported that to maintain user experience the UI (user interface) will remain identical, with all the changes appearing in the back end, integrating with both iOS and Android software. 

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A decentralised app will allow consumers across the UK to download the app without fears that their data could be exploited for secondary purposes. The good news is that the UK will now shift its efforts towards a secure app that gives people contact tracing as well as privacy. It is a shame that it took so long for the NHS and the government to come to the same realisation privacy experts had months ago - that in order for an app to be effective it is going to need to be accepted by the general public. While this is good news, the reality is that we could have had this app up and running weeks if not months ago; which could have greatly reduced the rate of infection and potentially saved lives.

Ray Walsh - Digital Privacy Expert, ProPrivacy

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Sun Jun 21 2020

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