Many Britons are scoffing at a government plan to roll out an NHS COVID-19 app to trace cases of the virus, describing the initiative as unnecessary and intrusive. The app received poor marks during initial trials.
The tracing app uses Bluetooth technology to register a “contact” when people come within six feet of each other. Those who later develop symptoms of coronavirus can inform the app, which then sends an alert to the people they’ve been in contact with. Similar apps have been adopted in countries such as Singapore and Germany. However, the idea has been met with considerable suspicion in Britain.
Former BBC reporter Anna Brees questioned why health officials and the media were urging people to download the app without first asking if it’s what the public actually wants.
“Why not design an app at speed which allows us all to vote on this? Freedom or control? I like freedom,” she noted.
Others noted that the program relies on constantly changing variables in order to function properly, making it “a complete waste of time.”
Shona Ghosh, Business Insider’s UK tech editor, wrote that privacy concerns have prevented her from endorsing the new app – at least for now.
Ongoing trials on the Isle of Wight, ahead of a nationwide rollout scheduled for later this month, have resulted in similarly poor reviews. Senior NHS sources told Health Service Journal (HSJ) that the app has failed “all of the tests” necessary to be released. One official expressed privacy concerns, noting that it would be impossible to make the program anonymous and non-intrusive.
The real problem is the government initially started saying it was a ‘privacy-preserving highly anonymous app’, but it quite clearly isn’t going to be… The second you say, ‘actually I’m positive’, that has to go back up to the government server, where it starts to track you versus other people.
There are also questions about basic feasibility. The program would be voluntary but would require widespread usage in order to actually be effective. Researchers say an estimated 80 percent of smartphone owners would have to actively use it. That’s a huge percentage – considerably more than the 67 percent of UK smartphone users who have downloaded popular messaging system WhatsApp. People would also have to be honest and diligent about reporting potential symptoms to the NHS.