NHS explores ‘feasibility’ of moving contact-tracing app over to Apple and Google model

A spokesman for NHSX, the health service’s digital arm, told the paper: “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.”

The move casts doubt on the NHS’s current app, which is released to all people on Isle of Wight Thursday, in the first major test of the technology. The app uses the Bluetooth signals on users’ smartphones to log when people come into close contact. When someone comes down with Covid-19, the app sends alerts to the people deemed at risk of infection, advising them to self-isolate.

The NHS decided to shun the template Apple and Google have created for health services to base their apps on earlier this year. Under this model all the data is stored and decisions made on the phone, a system the companies argue is better for security and privacy.

However, the NHS has argued its system will allow the Government to use anonymous data from the apps to track infection hotspots and learn more about how coronavirus spreads.

The NHS’s model has been criticised by privacy groups and increasingly experts, who have warned the UK’s app could run into the same technical problems as other countries such as Australia, which have also gone with their own design.

Earlier this week the company behind the Australian CovidSafe app admitted it had discovered problems with the Bluetooth connection when the app is running in the background of Apple phones, meaning some contacts may not be recorded properly.

Last month Germany ditched its attempt to build its own centralised app after it was unable to get Bluetooth permissions from Apple. It has now reverted to building a decentralized version along the lines of the Apple and Google model, joining other countries such as Italy, Switzerland and Estonia.

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