The UK is moving away from the way coronavirus tracking apps work in favour of technology models based on Apple and Google. Apple and Google’s designs have been touted as more privacy-conscious, but that means epidemiologists will get less data.
The NHS has been testing both systems for the past month. The centralized version triald on the Isle of Wight works well in assessing the distance between users, but not in identifying Apple’s iPhones. Specifically, the software registers nearly 75 percent of Android phones, but only 4 percent of iPhones.
By contrast, the Apple-Google model records 99% of both Android phones and iPhones. But its distance computing power is weak. In some cases, it can’t distinguish between a phone in a user’s pocket 1 meter (3.3 feet) and a phone in the hand of a user 3 meters (9.8 feet) away. The Irish experiment identified similar problems.
The contact tracking application is designed to help prevent a second wave of coronaviruses. They work by recording data when two people are close to each other. If one of the users is later diagnosed with the disease, they can alert others who have recently approached to the test and/or self-isolation.
The previous “centralized” design in the UK was to make contact matches on remote servers. Apple and Google’s model is done on phones, making it harder for authorities or potential hackers to remove anonymous records and use them for other purposes.