Apple and Google are reportedly in a “standoff” with the UK’s National Health Service over its plans to build an app that would alert users if they have been in contact with someone with the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Apple and Google announced last Friday that they are working together on Bluetooth technology that would aid governments and health agencies around the globe to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Apple assures users that their privacy and security will be central to the design of the project, and participation will be opt-in. The Cupertino firm says privacy, transparency, and consent are “of the utmost importance of this effort.”
The project will use a decentralized API to prevent governments from building a surveillance-style centralized database of contacts.
However, The Guardian reports that the NHS is in a standoff with Apple and Google after the two tech firms refused to support the UK’s plans to build an app for similar purposes.
NHSX – the British health service’s digital innovation unit –wasn’t aware of the Apple and Google project before it was announced, and it appears the NHSX’s own app’s usefulness will be severely hampered or rendered non-functional if it doesn’t implement the tech duo’s protocol.
Apps are forced to adhere to the Apple and Google API, or they won’t be able to access Bluetooth when it’s running in the background, working only when the phone was unlocked and the app was running.
However, a spokesperson for NHSX denied claims of a “standoff,” telling The Guardian: “This suggestion is completely wrong. Everyone is in agreement that user privacy is paramount, and while our app is not dependent on the changes they are making, we believe they will be helpful and complimentary.”