back to article UK finds itself almost alone with centralized virus contact-tracing app that probably won't work well, asks for your location, may be illegal

Britain is sleepwalking into another coronavirus blunder by failing to listen to global consensus and expert analysis with the release of the NHS COVID-19 contact-tracking app. On Monday, the UK government explained in depth and in clearly written language how its iOS and Android smartphone application – undergoing trials in …

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  1. Andy3

    More paranoid speculation. The headline consists almost entirely of 'could be's' & 'probablies' and sounds like it was written by a college student who thinks it's cool to pick holes in everything a Tory gov't tries to do.

  2. Citizen99

    Even if it worked, it would be an epidemiologists' toy, from which the emerging information would probably be ignored as far as implementation is concerned. (Experience suggests).

  3. Colin Miller

    Bluetooth disabled?

    Does the app function correctly (I hope not!) if the user has turned off Bluetooth on their device? Until I got a smartwatch, I only turned on Bluetooth when I was using it, in an attempt to extend my phone's battery life.

    However, I'm not sure how many other folks do this

  4. Nickckk

    No one knows the science

    You are making scientific conclusions when you say,

    "Unfortunately for folks in UK, while the explanation is coherent, calm, well-reasoned and plausible, it is likely to be a repeat of the disastrous "herd immunity" approach the government initially backed as a way to explain why it didn't need to go into a national lockdown. That policy was also well-reasoned and well-explained by a small number of very competent doctors and scientists who just happened to be wrong."

    The truth is that no one knows enough to make such judgements. Have a look at what Professor Michael Levitt has to say about an alternative to national lockdown and using distancing measures along the lines of Sweden. Levitt has more experience than most in this epidemic. The 30+ mins makes good listening, particularly when you're at home with time on your hands

    https://unherd.com/thepost/nobel-prize-winning-scientist-the-covid-19-epidemic-was-never-exponential/

  5. ducatis'r us

    Reports on BBC state that app is developed by VMWare Pivotal. VMWare pivotal have exactly how much background in mobile app development???? Don't see the connection to Cummings et al either?

  6. oldsteel

    Government, privacy and the NHS app

    The nefarious statements about the ability to join databases and identify individuals by 'the government' to do nasty things are all just noise. If 'the government' wanted to do this they have much to go at, HMRC, passport agency, DVLA, ANPR cameras and all the other databases used to track our activity much more effectively should they wish to do so. And Facebook gathers more data about you than this ever will. The main point in the article for me is the technical failings of the app and the way bluetooth will be used, differently, in Android and IOS phones, and how this might impact the effectiveness of the app. It has been stated over 50% of the population must use the app for it to work. Personally I have many times turned off bluetooth to save battery, that added to the foreground/background limitations described make it look distinctly flaky. And we have all seen at first hand how 'data', 'science' (and data science!) can be interpreted incorrectly due to assumptions made, partial reporting, ways of reporting etc etc, and this app will simply add to the mass of partial data out there. I have sympathy with those tasked to make decisions, but fear this app will end up as yet another piece of 'corona-junk'.

    1. LittleTyke

      Re: Government, privacy and the NHS app

      "corona junk" like the Nightingale Hospitals, for instance. They were built at massive cost and are now practically redundant already, having received very few patients. Oh, well. The taxpayer is going to need really deep pockets to pay for all this.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Government, privacy and the NHS app

        They have been built for use in November - December.

        But no-one is allowed to say that.

  7. SAdams

    Herd Immunity

    There is a repeat of a fundamental misunderstanding of many journalists on Covid 19 here;

    “... it is likely to be a repeat of the disastrous "herd immunity" approach the government initially backed as a way to explain why it didn't need to go into a national lockdown. That policy was also well-reasoned and well-explained by a small number of very competent doctors and scientists who just happened to be wrong.“

    Immunity is not “wrong”. All coronaviruses impart a level of immunity, via antibodies or T cells. In some cases its not full immunity and usually only lasts 1-2 years. Its unlikely SARS Cov 2 is very different.

    With the Covid 19 disease, it has an R0>3 (probably >5) and pre symptom viral shedding. So you don’t just stop it by isolation etc. A vaccine is a wild shot, unlikely to be ready in less than a year if at all. Likewise an effective treatment is a lottery. The most likely outcome is that restrictions of some form stay in place until there is a level of immunity in the population such that outbreaks are few and far between. In other words - “herd immunity”.

  8. Dr_N Silver badge
    Joke

    He used two famous epidemiological stories to prove the point: Typhoid Mary and John Snow.

    I'm not sure an outbreak of White Walkers falls into the same category as Covid-19.

    Will mobiles work north of The Wall? Coverage can be quite patchy, so I've heard.

  9. tonyyaman

    NHS

    the nhs has been hacked beafor and will be again the app is not safe and will leak it has to be google + apple so far no one else has got any thing else better so far

  10. OldITGit

    You youngsters make me laugh

    You youngsters make me laugh, I’m over 70 and been in IT since I was 30. You youngsters think you invented IT, nope you just followed. Most of my over 70 friends have smart phones and the dad one that does not just don’t want them.

    As far as losing privacy, you lot must think you are very important, who really cares where you’ve been. If a bit of info is used for marketing so what, unless you don’t use any social media or messaging that info is already out there.

    I would have it that the ranking for who gets the vaccine first ( if there is one ) would be who uses the app most. The apps aim is to save other people’s life’s not the user, non users are being selfish.

    Use the app and save lives, simple..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You youngsters make me laugh

      Many of the old folk I know (including family members) have stuck 2 fingers up at "Stay at Home" and go out every day shopping etc.

      The one time they were asked to sacrifice for the common good, after harping on all these years about a war they were never in, and they dropped the ball.

      So I doubt they'll be lining up to install virus tracking apps.

      Shame on them.

  11. Wayland Bronze badge

    Herd Immunity

    Herd Immunity is how we usually handle viruses. When I heard Boris announce this I was pleased. It makes sense for the country to develop immunity that way as there is no vaccine. In fact there has never been a vaccine to Coronavirus, there is no reason to think it can be done with COVID-19. Lockdown and wait for a vaccine is a terrible plan as is becoming obvious. Empty hospitals mean people are not being treating, assuming the NHS is mostly good then this policy is mostly bad. Clearly by the empty state of the hospitals the problem of COVID is less important than the other things hospitals do.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not true

      We don't allow deadly virus's to spread because that would kill a load of people. Herd immunity as you think of it is done with a NON DEADLY vaccine. The difference being one kills, the exact thing you're trying to avoid.

      @"Lockdown and wait for a vaccine is a terrible plan"

      That's not the plan, the plan is lockdown, get the number of cases low enough to manage by contact tracing and get on with your life like every other country that's already tackled it.

      i.e. the same thing we did with MERS, SARS1, H1N1, FOXNEWS:

      Contain the sickness, isolate it, let it die, and watch out for any signs of the disease coming back to contain it.

      Also you don't want it to widely spread because it would have more opportunity to mutate, speaking of which....

      https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1567134820301829?via%3Dihub

      1. SAdams

        Re: Not true

        Fox news - if only :)

        SARS Cov 1 is very different - it could be contained because of the low infection rate, and late symptoms. There are a few studies I could link to which strongly suggest all populations will get to a point where most people have been infected. The only exception is a vaccine or treatment, which are both very unlikely (sadly). If so, then as long as you keep it below hospital capacity and isolate the high risk groups as much as possible, the only thing you can change is how ling it takes you to get through it (and the damage to the economy). The final death rate is not changed, just how much its spread out.

      2. SAdams

        Re: Not true

        Its worth having a watch of this on the recent study in Germany -> https://twitter.com/freddiesayers/status/1257620247034630146?s=21

      3. Pete the Other

        Re: Not true

        ".the plan is lockdown, get the number of cases low enough to manage by contact tracing and get on with your life..."

        Really, really hope you are wrong there - because that doesn't have any end date to it. Combine with an over-intrusive app that unnecessarily collects data, and policies that mean it will never be removed and can be used for anything, and what you have is Big Brother's wet dream.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Herd Immunity

      >Herd Immunity is how we usually handle viruses. When I heard Boris announce this I was pleased. It makes sense for the country to develop immunity that way as there is no vaccine. In fact there has never been a vaccine to Coronavirus, there is no reason to think it can be done with COVID-19.

      Yes, there is no guarantee of a vaccine. There is also no guarantee that recovery will make you immune to further infections, how long that immunity lasts or how likely you are to develop long-term health issues as a result of infection. It is entirely possible that not only are you not immune, but you are more susceptible to the second (or third) wave as a result of getting the disease early on.

    3. AndyD 8-)₹

      Re: Herd Immunity

      "herd immunity" approach the government initially backed as a way to explain why it didn't need to go into a national lockdown. That policy was also well-reasoned and well-explained by a small number of very competent doctors and scientists who just happened to be XXwrongXX right, but obviously it is politically quite unpalatable.

  12. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    We've had 100 years of experimentation with central planning, and it's never worked. How is this going to be different?

  13. martinusher Silver badge

    A couple of misunderstandings.....

    This article suggests that there's some kind of higher law that the UK government is has to work under. I can't imagine what that is -- the state is sovereign. So I'm not quite sure what all that business with 'human rights' and 'privacy' is about. There's laws about this in the EU but the UK's withdrawn from that organization (remember?).

    The second thing is this "big ID number". Phones and other mobile devices already have a unique ID number. They have a phone number merely because that mapping is easier for people to remember (although the widespread use of contact lists makes the notion of a traditional phone number obsolete).

    The other thing that's bugging me is that people seem to be trained to treat the outer layer API as an immutable property of an operating system rather than just a convenient model for applications developers. In real life these components and their drivers are just peripherals and can be manipulated in all sorts of creative ways if the need arose. Apple and Google don't like most people doing this because it woukld cause chaos but we all know that its done because its the target of the exploits that are used by virus writers and intelligence agencies (the actual 'exploit' is to find a wormhole to load the actual package). Once again I'll hear people saying "you can't do that!" but I'll just invoke the 'soverign nation' concept. (For the more tin-foil helmet inclined it may be that Dr. Levy has accidentally put his foot in it by intimating that there's a lot more you can do with a mobile phone than host messages and cat videos....)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A couple of misunderstandings.....

      Despite mocking the tinfoil hat brigade for their paranoia, you appear to be unaware of the momentous change going on in society. It is likely that the State will have to become far more authoritarian in the next 12 months in order to retain control, otherwise society will collapse into anarchy as many people end of having nothing left to lose.

      The last depression in the US resulted in a reduction in world trade of more than 30%. If the same happened today, it would be catastrophic. Modern British society is unequipped to deal with that kind of upheaval.

  14. Sok Puppette

    It is ALWAYS possible to re-identify any "anonymous" data if there's enough there to be useful in the first place. Anybody who talks about "anonymous" or "anonymized" data is either a liar or an idiot.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Slaughter time

    It's Springtime and quite appropriate that the British lambs and sheep are being led to slaughter by their owners.

  16. Phil Endecott

    “updated to add”

    The original version of this article said that iOS apps can’t do bluetooth in the background, so users would have to keep the phone awake and the app running in the foreground for it to work, which is completely unrealistic and so the app would be a failure.

    Then the author discovered the “special modes”, as he terms them, that allow exactly this i.e. bluetooth in the background.

    References to the original allegation have now been edited out.

    Not quite the quality I would hope for frankly.

    (Presumably this post will be “rejected”.)

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: “updated to add”

      This is a constantly evolving story with more information emerging on a daily and hourly basis, and we've revised our analysis of it. The background mode on iOS is limited - and the NHS's use of it looks problematic.

      The FT reports the NHS is considering switching to the Apple-Google API after tests show the iOS app falls into listen-only mode (as we first reported) after a while. A passing Android is needed to wake it up (as we first reported).

      Of course, we want to be right first time, that's our number one goal. Bear in mind this is a complex technical and political hot potato that's shifting position all the time.

      C.

      1. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Re: “updated to add”

        "the iOS app falls into listen-only mode (as we first reported) after a while. A passing Android is needed to wake it up"

        I'm glad my Android can now identify passing Apple users. Can I suggest a suitable alert?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: “updated to add”

        It's all political, that's the problem.

  17. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    And here I am

    Without a phone that runs apps. Or has bluetooth. Huh.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And here I am

      No vaccine for you then.

      Go to the back of the queue, along with those who don't have photo ID, and therefore no rights...

  18. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Little Neros* just doing IT with their Masters' Biddings? Who knows when no one is told?

    From where/whom/what does Boris and the UKGBNI government machines get their intelligence for scripts to be prepared for media presentation with a view for future eventual virtual realisation/semi autonomous mindless acceptance?

    Would it be of a foreign power source and alien force or is it a novel homespun confection and something quite entirely different? A change from the all too usual and austere FUD of late and the most recent of past enterprises would be very nice, surely?

    Here be speculation, and El Reg receives a gracious hat tip mention, that things are not as they seem to be presented and that is going to be increasingly problematical and systemically damaging, for it stinks of Big Brother type fascism which is certainly not at all related to anything in support of a supposed democracy and free thoughtful speech ? ........ Civil Liberty Vanishes

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Forget privacy - contact tracing is fundamentally flawed

    Here's why:

    https://raccoon.onyxbits.de/blog/covid-19-bluetooth-contact-tracing-stupid-idea/

  20. TechHeadToo

    Lets keep the Track Record 100%

    Boris Buffoon and his cronies can't afford to allow a better solution now - they have their consistent record of failure to ..

    well - to do anything right - make clear decisions, plan, implement effectively, take care of the voters, the peasants, the people who make and do all the stuff we need to allow us to live.

    Wait - I forgot the Bankers and Bosses. The decision to give out 'loans' and not 'money'. You need some money to pay the workforce - it's a loan - you have to pay back from all the money you haven't been getting while closed - plus pay an 'arrangement fee' to the bankers. So someone will be OK after all

    I'm going to see if Sweden still accept immigrants.

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