Updated: Jun 15, 2020
The use of Covid-19 tracking apps have been successful so far in dealing with the outbreak in countries such as China, Singapore and South Korea. In South Korea one such app was succesfully used early. India has recently introduced theirs, there's making it mandatory by law for people to use, the first democracy to do so.
So what should we know about our own app?
The app being introduced by the British government, named NHS Covid-19, is meant to be a vital tool for the government. It is designed to implement "track-and-trace" strategy, with users filling out their symptoms in the app, which will in turn lead to a better understanding of where future outbreaks occur throughout the country, if used succesfully. Currently the NHS COVID-19 app is only available on the Isle of Wight.
The NHS has said "The NHS COVID-19 App automates the process of contact tracing. Its goal is to reduce the transmission of the virus by alerting people who may have been exposed to the infection so they can take action to protect themselves, the people they care about and the NHS."
As a result, if the app proves that it can identify low-risk areas, it can lead to the easing of lockdown measures. According to the NHS website, "We believe this app could be important in helping the country return to normality and beating coronavirus."
Ian Levy of the National Cyber Security Centre explained how the app will work, "By detecting and recording when you’re near other app users and later telling you if you’ve been in 'high-risk contact' with someone who has symptoms."
It is first being trialed on of the Isle of Wight, in an initiative which started at the beginning of May, ahead of a nation-wide rollout. However users of phones with older operating systems, and phones older than 2017, have experienced bugs and glitches within the app. If you don't have a smart phone, the functionality isn't available to use or download at all. Over 55,000 residents of the Island downloaded the app to take part in the government's scheme.
What are the issues?
Some healthcare professionals have warned that the government's tracking app is has major problems and could fail to identify over half of those infected. This is because the app focuses on just two symptoms of the virus, high-temperature and cough, ignoring more than10 other crucial symptoms of Coronavirus... not to mention cases where people may be asymptomatic.
Despite there being a high correlation between tracing apps and reduced rates of infection internationally, the apps are still fraught with issues surrounding privacy, data security and freedom of choice.
Ian Levy of the National Cyber Security Centre, explained more about the security behind the app "To some, a ‘government provided contact tracing app’ may sound scary, but the advantage of using technology for this is that it can be done at scale while preserving privacy and security."
On the 13th of May leaked documents were discovered on on an unsecured Google Drive document (open to anyone with a link) which showed that in future the NHS would ask people to share their health status with the app and input their postcode and GP address. This leak, viewed as careless by the government, has lead to even more questions about data and a lack of transparency.
The Documents disclosed were marked as ‘Official – Sensitive’, and included various slides showing the apps future iterations. One of the slides said "Collect self-reported data from the public like post code, demographic information and co-location status to enable more effective resource planning for NHS."
The NHS have said, "The app has been designed with privacy in mind. The app does not collect personally identifiable data from users. Users will always remain anonymous. The anonymous data collected by the NHS COVID-19 App will only ever be used for NHS care, management, evaluation and research."