Via Yahoo Finance

The UK has abandoned plans to release its own contact tracing app and will instead use technology developed by Apple and Google.

It comes after months of delays to the app, which has been plagued by technical problems and concerns over a lack of privacy. 

“Our response to this virus has and will continue to be as part of an international effort,” said Baroness Dido Harding, who is leading NHS Test and Trace, in a joint statement with NHSX CEO Matthew Gould .

“We have agreed to share our own innovative work on estimating distance between app users with Google and Apple, work that we hope will benefit others, while using their solution to address some of the specific technical challenges identified through our rigorous testing. “

The decision to switch to the Apple and Google’s model follows a reshuffle in the team leading the app’s development in the UK. 

On Wednesday, it was announced that Mr Gould and Geraint Lewis would be leaving the project this month. Simon Thompson, an ex-Apple executive who is currently chief product manager at Ocado, will be taking their place. 

Issues with the app first emerged during trials by residents of the Isle of Wight in May.  The most common complaint was that the it was not available on phones that were more than four years old. 

People also said the app drained the battery-life. One user wrote on Apple’s App Store page for the NHS App that it was giving him ‘constand push notifications’ saying it needed to retain access to his phone’s Bluetooth.

Privacy experts also criticised the Government’s centralised model over fears that it gave healthcare authorities too much access to data. They praised the switch to Apple and Google’s system on Thursday.

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Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy, said: “The government’s decision to make a 180-degree turn on its Covid-19 tracing app – in favour of a secure decentralised model – is a huge win for digital privacy.

“A decentralised app will allow consumers across the UK to download the app without fears that their data could be exploited for secondary purposes,” he added.

Switching to Google and Apple’s contact technology means the UK will have to use a decentralised database.

While the system will notify smartphone users if they have come into contact with an infected person, it won’t share that data with the NHS, making it harder to track the spread of the virus on a national scale. 

Some governments have raise concerns that the two tech giants’ control of the smartphone market means they have been able to set the terms of a key element of the response to this pandemic.

There are also fears that older people could be left behind. Apple customers with phones older than the iPhone 6s will not be able to use the contact tracing software. Data company SensorTower estimates that is around 16pc of the population. 

Despite these issues, Apple and Google’s ‘privacy by design’ app appears to have won public trust in Germany, a country of 84 million. France’s app, which stores data centrally and is not supported by Apple, has been activated by just 2pc of the population. 

The UK’s app was initially promised for mid-May, but this week Lord Bethall, a health minister, admitted it would not be ready before winter.

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“Countries across the globe have faced challenges in developing an app which gets all of these elements right,” said Health secretary Matt Hancock. “Through ongoing international collaboration we hope to learn, improve and find a solution which will strengthen our global response to this virus.”