British health officials have asked a team of developers to “investigate” the feasibility of switching their contact tracking apps to cross-platform APIs offered by Apple and Google, suggesting a change in plans for the NHS,media outlet AppleInsider reported. The NHS will this week begin testing internal contact tracking solutions as part of a broader effort to monitor and mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus. Like France, the UK has rejected a more comprehensive API offered by Apple and Google, opting instead for a solution that stores user information in a central database.
It now appears that British officials have signed a contract with a Swiss development company to refine the use of the NHS contact tracking app on a large scale. The improvements also include an investigation into the “feasibility” of implementing Apple-Google technology, according to documents seen by the Financial Times.
The development company’s work has been described as a “two-week technical tackle” with a deadline of mid-May. “We have been working with Apple and Google throughout the development of the app, and it is very right and normal to continue to refine the app,” an NHSX spokesman told Apple Insider. NHSX is the NHS’s digital arm, developing the CONTACT tracking app for COVID-19.
The decision to pass the Apple-Google API has been criticized by privacy advocates and technologists. Some of these concerns include the privacy implications of centralized storage of data and the issue of running Bluetooth in the iOS background.
Sources told the Guardian on Wednesday that NHS officials were “racing” to improve the privacy and security of their platforms.