The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is moving forward on developing its own COVID-19 coronavirus exposure tracking app and it will not use the APIs created by Apple and Google.
The BBC reports the UK’s coronavirus tracking solution will use a centralized solution that sends data to a server to determine who to send alerts to when a person is diagnosed with coronavirus. That solution is much less private than the Apple-Google solution, which doesn’t involve a central computer, and instead, the user’s smartphone sends alerts to other people they’ve been in contact with, using device-to-device communication.
The decentralized approach used by the Apple-Google API prevents governments or other nosy folks from tracking individuals and identify social interactions. However, the NHS argues that a centralized approach will provide more insight into how CPVID-19 is spread and will allow for more granularity as to show receives notifications.
“One of the advantages is that it’s easier to audit the system and adapt it more quickly as scientific evidence accumulates,” Prof Christophe Fraser, one of the epidemiologists advising NHSX, told the BBC.
“The principal aim is to give notifications to people who are most at risk of having got infected, and not to people who are much lower risk. It’s probably easier to do that with a centralised system.”
Both the NHS and Apple-Google solutions use Bluetooth, but since the NHS app does not use the Apple-Google API, it needs to be developed to get around Bluetooth privacy limitations that prevent apps from using Bluetooth when running in the background.
The NHS’s digital innovation unit (NHSX), claims they have found a way to make the app work “sufficiently well” on iPhones even when the app isn’t on the screen. Unfortunately, the NHSX’s solution will put a harder hit on battery life, as it will wake the app up in the background each time the iPhone detects another nearby iPhone with the app, executing a bit of code, then returning to a dormant state.
Apple’s solution allows the Bluetooth-based communication to occur in the background, with no need to activate the app.
(Less private, and a bigger draw on my iPhone’s battery? Gee! Sign me up! – Ed.)
The UK is only one of many countries looking to develop their own COVID-19 tracking apps without using the Apple-Google API. However, some of those countries eventually got onboard with the decentralized solution offered by the tech duo. Germany had worked on its own app that would use a centralized server to track users.
France is also pursuing its own tracking app using a centralized server solution and even requested Apple to ease its Bluetooth restrictions. Australia recently released its own app, which has proven to have issues with Bluetooth and Low Power Mode that can prevent it from working. (The app has to send push notifications periodically to remind users to open the app once in a while and the app can stop working if too many other apps attempt to access the Bluetooth feature,)
Apple and Google are expected to unveil their more privacy-based exposure notification APIs in a beta capacity this week. Public health authorities can create apps using the APIs, which would better protect users by preventing location-based tracking.