UK pursues centralized contact tracking app against coronaviruses and rejects Apple-Google solution


The UK National Health Service (NHS) is moving forward with plans to create an app to track coronavirus exposure that is independent of the APIs created by Apple and Google, reports the BBC.

Apple and Google’s exposure notification system

The Apple and Google Coronavirus tracking solution is decentralized for privacy, while the UK wants a centralized solution. In the UK version, the app records data when people are close to each other, using a computer server to determine who to send alerts to when someone is diagnosed with coronavirus.

The Apple and Google Coronavirus API, on the other hand, does not involve a mainframe. Instead, when a person is identified as having a coronavirus, their smartphone sends alerts to other people with whom they have been in contact, using device-to-device communication.

The decentralized approach prevents government entities or attackers from using server logs to track individuals and identify social interactions, but the NHS argues that a centralized approach will provide more information on how COVID- 19 spreads and will allow better control over the recipients of notifications. .

“One of the advantages is that it is easier to check the system and adapt it more quickly as the scientific evidence accumulates,” Professor Christophe Fraser, one of the epidemiologists, told the BBC. advising the NHSX.

“The main objective is to notify those most at risk of being infected, not those who are at much lower risk. It is probably easier to do this with a centralized system. “

The UK has pursued its own tracking solution since before Apple and Google announced plans to build a coronavirus tracking solution that can be used by governments and health agencies around the world.

The Apple / Google tracking APIs and the app developed separately in the UK use Bluetooth, but without using the Apple / Google API, the NHS app must bypass the Bluetooth privacy limitations that prevent apps from accessing Bluetooth when running in the background.

According to the NHSX (the digital innovation unit of the NHS), its engineers have found a way to make the application work “well enough” on iPhones even when the application is not active on the screen. The solution is to re-enable the app in the background every time the iPhone detects another device running the same software, the app then running the code before returning to a dormant state.

This requires more battery power than Apple’s solution, which allows Bluetooth-based communications to occur in the background without having to activate an app.

Several other countries were also pursuing contact tracking applications that did not use Apple and Google technology, but have since agreed to adopt the decentralized tracking APIs. Germany, for example, was creating its own app that would use a centralized server design, but Apple refused to support Germany’s plan and was heavily criticized by scientists. Along with the United Kingdom, France is also pursuing a COVID-19 tracking application that uses a centralized server, and has even asked Apple to relax the Bluetooth restrictions.

Australia recently released a COVIDSafe app that does not use Apple’s APIs, and problems with Bluetooth and Low Power mode may prevent it from working. The app should send push notifications to people to remind them to open it once in a while, and it may stop working if there are too many other Bluetooth apps running. It also results in greater battery discharge than normal, and in some situations, such as on public transportation, users are asked to leave the app open and running.

COVIDSafe from Australia, via ABC News Australia

Apple and Google plan to launch their beta exposure notification APIs this week, which will allow public health officials to start developing applications that benefit from it. Last week, the two companies announced a number of privacy-focused changes to further protect users and prevent location-based tracking.


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