Privacy concerns as Britain goes it alone in opting for centralised data system for tracing app
|It’s long been a public information battle to teach people not to download phone apps and mindlessly tick yes to every permission request. As with so many other norms in this crisis, that idea has been flipped on its head. |
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, is now beginning his campaign to get as much of the public as possible to download the NHS’s new coronavirus tracking app – although not quite yet, because that could mess up the trial on the Isle of Wight.
– The powers of automation and big data –
Scientists estimate that 80 per cent of the population will need to have the app on their phones and enabled for it to be effective. Yet in Singapore, an early adopter of the technology, levels have been around 20 per cent.
The app is not the sole element of the track and trace system, and it won’t handle the most difficult parts of the job, but it should hugely speed up what would otherwise be a very slow and lengthy process of figuring out who an infected person had been near and contacting them.
In its earliest form, at least, the app is likely to be a blunt tool. It will log interactions that meet the time and distance criteria but won’t distinguish particularly close or long ones. Later iterations, however, may be able to take on board new information about how the virus is spread.
– What could possibly go wrong? –
Yet it’s the collection of that information that is a cause for concern among some privacy experts. The UK has chosen to go down a path that most Western countries have rejected by having a centralised system. That is, if you were to enter into the app that you had become infected, the data from your phone, while remaining anonymous, would be handled by a central database.
Other countries have opted to use a model designed by Apple and Google, whose operating systems combined run the vast majority of the world’s smartphones, in which the data is all handled locally on the handset.
There are several reasons why. Some are practical – the Apple and Google approach may be kinder on phone batteries, thus avoiding a major disincentive. But the key one is that it follows industry best practice of not having a large central database full of sensitive information that could be compromised or misused.
(Another issue, albeit less pressing, is that the UK system is unlikely to integrate with those abroad, making travel without quarantine difficult.)
– Worth the risk? –
The Government has moved to allay such concerns. Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) provided technical advice to the NHS in building the app and it has published a rare, 4,500-word blog on why the app is safe and the centralised approach an acceptable one.
The NHS has opted for such a model because, unlike in the decentralised system, it can use all that anonymised data to learn much more about the spread of the virus, including where it is and how infectious different kinds of people are.
– Don’t forget to test –
Data issues aside, the app, if downloaded widely enough, could be a hugely important public health tool. But it won’t be able to work miracles. A Britain unlocked by track and trace will be a much better place to be than now, but not without many difficulties.
As Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, warned at a press conference yesterday, unlucky individuals could find themselves going straight from one bout of 14 days self-isolation to another.
The key to making track and trace work will be to keep the number of people needlessly quarantining to a minimum by having tests available for those alerted that they might be infected.
TAP – Unless you are a flu vaccine addict, you are near 100% safe from the Coronavirus which is mild in its effects. If you’ve had flu vaccines there are retro viruses in your body which can grow rapidly in the Coronavirus. These can kill you if you are weak, or treated incorrectly by the NHS with a ventilator or wrong drugs.
The problem for the people like Hancock trying to boost the Coronavirus psyop and make yet more money from selling lethal vaccines, is that there aren’t enough cases and hospitals are mostly empty. Only if they can get people to rush to be vaccinated can they get death rates up to their target levels, and profits. To do that they need more panic.
The APP is designed to create more fear where fear is subsiding. This vaccinate and ventilate government wants fear to last forever. Don’t get the APP. In fact don’t carry a phone if you value your privacy. Your every word and move is tracked as it is. Are you happy to carry the weaponry of your enemies around all day? Become invisible to their controlling devices and skip around free of them all.