UK contact-tracing app being tested on the Isle of Wight

pharmafile | May 5, 2020 | News story | Manufacturing and Production COVID-19, coronavirus 

The NHS’s coronavirus contract tracing app has been published to Apple and Google’s app stores with council staff and healthcare workers being invited to download it on the Isle of Wight today.

This will be followed by a wider roll out across the island on Thursday. Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged Isle of Wight residents to “please download the app the protect the NHS and save lives. By downloading the app, you’re protecting your own health, you’re protecting the health of your loved ones, and the health of the community.”

Users who experience symptoms will be asked to notify the app and then will be offered a test.

The NHSX has tried to reassure the public that their privacy will be secure while using the app. The have reiterated that: use of the app will be voluntary, the only personal data stores would be the user’s postcode and additional location data would only be recorded if users agree to a further opt-in request.

However the app has generated a lot of concern. Law Professor Orla Lynskey told the BBC that: “There is an inherent risk that if you create a system that can be added to incrementally, you could do so in a way that is very privacy invasive.”

Alan Davidson and Marshall Erwin,from the non-for-profit organisation Mozilla, criticised the government’s approach to centralise the data. Apple and Google had proposed a decentralised alternative where contact tracing would happen on an individual’s phone rather than being sent to NHS servers. On a blog post on their site, Davidson and Erwin wrote: “The biggest problem is that it would expand government access to the ‘social graph’ – data about you, your relationships, and your links with others.

“Regardless of the particulars, we know this social graph data is near impossible to truly anonymise. It will provide information about you that is highly sensitive, and can easily be abused for a host of unintended purposes.”

However, the NHS has defended the decision to use the centralised app. On Monday, Chief Executive of the NHS digital arm, Matthew Gould, told parliament’s joint committee on human rights that: “Even if the take-up rate is 20%, that gives us important insights into how the virus is spreading. At 40 or 50% it will make a big difference.”

The Isle of Wight’s Green Party, which has nine locally elected councillors, has also expressed their doubts. They said: “The Isle of Wight has a significantly older and more vulnerable population the island’s one hospital could be overwhelmed if people feel they do no need to stick to lockdown measures due to the rolling out of this app.”

Conor Kavanagh

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