The UK National Health Service has decided to speed up the release of its anti-Covid-19 contact tracking app to counter the ongoing pandemic, both for iOS and Android. Curious, however, how the app will not use contact detection and exposure notification technology to all privacy created jointly by Apple and Google.
NHS, the UK health service, will send user data to a centralized server, which means sharing more information than would happen with the official APIs that Apple and Google are promoting. In addition, due to the approach chosen by the UK health service, the app will drain smartphone batteries much faster.
Apple previously promoted SSN efforts, for example by submitting a video statement from the UK's Chief Medical Officer on the App Store and Apple Music apps. In addition, the BBC says that Apple will allow NHS to release the app on the App Store, even if it goes against the advice and guidelines of the Cupertino multinational.
The Apple and Google solution – which will be available in the next few hours in a preliminary version – is based on anonymous identifiers that can be collected in a database on the device. When a user declares positive to COVID-19, the devices of all the other users can check their local list of nearby identifiers to see if there is a match. It preserves the user's privacy and is very energy efficient.
The NHS method will however use short-range Bluetooth signals to determine the proximity of any infected, however it will send all the proximity events to a single centralized server, which will then perform the correspondences and manage the distribution of the notifications. The UK's NHS believes that the app and centralized anti-Covid-19 system will collect more data on the spread of coronavirus across the country. However, this means that each user's device will constantly send information to NHS servers via the Internet, naturally raising concerns about the user's privacy, with important consequences also on the battery life of the devices.
Additionally, iOS automatically limits the amount of third-party apps' access to Bluetooth data while they run in the background. The national health system app will therefore have to be reactivated by the system every time someone else approaches, probably reducing battery life. The notification API recommended by Apple, however, will not be limited by these restrictions and the collection of identifiers will take place without reactivating each app individually.
To know exactly how the contact tracking technology promoted by Apple and Google works, please refer directly to this link.
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