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UK could shift to Apple-Google tracing app after issues we all saw coming

The UK could yet pivot to the Apple and Google-made contact tracing platform as it seeks to develop an app to help track the spread of coronavirus.

The current version of the app, which started trials in the Isle of Wight this week, is built on proprietary technology but there have been calls to switch to the Apple and Google platform that potentially offers a better experience and gives the public greater assurances over data privacy.

According to a Financial Times report on Friday, the government has instructed the NHSX innovation department to build a second application on the tech giants’ joint Exposure Notification API “in parallel” with the current efforts.

According to a person familiar with the talks, the NHS had engaged with “cordial and constructive” discussions “exploring how we might change course.”

Related: Netflix vs Disney Plus – the best lockdown fodder

This change has been coming and appears to be another example of the UK making a decision widely condemned before having to switch course. Concerns were raised over compatibility with the iPhone if Apple’s own API wasn’t used. Effectively, the app would need to be open at all times and that would create issues with operability and battery life.

The problem the UK government had in adopting the standard was down to Apple and Google’s unwillingness to share the data, or offer the ability to cross-reference it with other information that could be used in the fight against Covid-19. Apple and Google have said that in order to fully protect users’ privacy, the information would remain decentralised on the individual devices themselves rather than uploaded to a central server.

Apple and Google also possess the kill switch for the API, meaning it could be switched off when the pandemic was over and not used by the government for continuing surveillance purposes.

NHSX said: “We’ve been working with Apple and Google throughout the app’s development and it’s quite right and normal to continue to refine the app.”

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