back to article Academics demand answers from NHS over potential data timebomb ticking inside new UK contact-tracing app

A group of nearly 175 UK academics has criticised the NHS's planned COVID-19 contact-tracing app for a design choice they say could endanger users by creating a centralised store of sensitive health and travel data about them. In the open letter published this afternoon, the 173 scholars called on NHSX, the state-run health …

  1. Jay 2

    What can possibly go wrong?

    An app developed by and for (I believe) the UK government, which will quite happily slurp lots of data and send it back to a central database. Plus it's yet to be confirmed if it'll run your mobile battery into the ground, I think we'll have to wait and see on that one.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: What can possibly go wrong?

      ...and whether the data might be subject to the US Patriot Act, considering whose creating it.

  2. IHateWearingATie
    Mushroom

    This is typical public sector thinking - great being the enemy of good.

    The extra information they are after will be very very useful in lots of situations, but they have missed the glaring issue of privacy. It could cause far fewer people to sign up, meaning that it misses what it is meant to do in the first place (apparently you need at least 60% of the population to use it for it to be effective), and we can pretty much guarantee some kind of snafu to allow access to the data for people we don't want to access it.

    Most frustrating.

    1. Andy Non Silver badge

      I'll be looking closely at the details when they emerge and will (or not) sign up depending on the data they require.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Just Say No

        I'll be looking closely at the details when they emerge and will (or not) sign up depending on the data they require.

        Make your choice now unless you are under the misapprehension that anything good can come of Palantir.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: the misapprehension that anything good can come of Palantir.

          ... and, of course, we have Denethor as the primary example of that.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: the misapprehension that anything good can come of Palantir.

            ...and, of course, we have Denethor as the primary example of that.

            Fuck, you mean if you open the app and look at your screen you see Gollum's Michael Gove's haunting visage gazing longingly into the depths of your soul?

            GAAAAAA!

            GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

            GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA...<THUD>

      2. nematoad Silver badge

        "... a centralised model may risk losing public trust."

        No, I don't think it will with the majority of the population. You might, I most certainly would, be wary of such a data slurping feature but the readers of El reg are not in the majority here. Most people are not even aware of what the consequences of such a data grab could mean.

        So good that the government is thinking about trying to control the spread of this disease, but bad that their instincts are to grab everything that they can and hope that no-one notices

      3. Saruman the White

        I'll be looking closely at the details when they emerge and will (or not) sign up depending on the data they require.

        I'll be looking very closely at the details, and will raise a GDPR complaint with the ICO if they are slurping anything apart from the information they must have. Even HMG has to obey the law!

        1. JohnMurray

          Seriously?

          They make the laws, I'm sure they can make a few more; or hide breaches of those that exist now.

        2. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge
          Trollface

          You know it must be bad...

          Even Saruman objects to using a palantir!

          The problem with security is that the vast majority just don't think about it. I bet most people wouldn't mind posting their "coronavirus contacts" , slurped by Bluetooth, straight onto Facebook for all the world to see.

          "I'm doing nothing wrong, I have nothing to hide. I'm proud to do my bit for the NHS."

          Just one step away from "Don't you love the NHS, citizen?"...

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: You know it must be bad...

            Just one step away from "Don't you love the NHS, citizen?"

            By the time the media and opposition have finished looking at PPE provision the current govt. might have its own issues about how much it really loved the NHS.

        3. phuzz Silver badge

          Even HMG has to is supposed to obey the law.

          ftfy

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    HMG reply.

    We only like experts who we agree with. We don't agree with them.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: HMG reply.

      It is a quite high-powered list of names, but I wonder how it was compiled. There are a lot of names I'd expect to see (no one from Durham Uni, or Dundee, and only one from St Andrews, for example) because of their interest and publications in this area.

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  5. Persona Silver badge

    Slurp everyone's details

    Well not "everyone's"

    1. Drew Scriver Silver badge

      Re: Slurp everyone's details

      Maybe, but what if it being tracked becomes a requirement for using public transportation? Air travel? Attending a public event like a concert? Visiting a museum? Attending class?

      Then, once, the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, there will undoubtedly be calls to keep the tracker in place to fight crime, solve crime, and prevent the spread of other diseases.

      The UK is already fond of tracking people via its vast network of CCTV-cameras. You really think the authorities will retire personal trackers once they are in place?

      1. Philip Lewis

        Re: Slurp everyone's details

        Welcome to he CCP controlled China. Is this what we really want?

        There are always people who will give up their freedom for the illusion of security, sadly they are now in the majority and the outcome is not going to be good.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Slurp everyone's details

          The level of surveillance in the uk is not very different from thag of china. If anything, we are a bit more incompetent, but rest sure that everyone has a file.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Slurp everyone's details

        They're going to write a Blackberry app? Otherwise they're out of luck here.

      3. Ybslik

        Re: Slurp everyone's details

        So

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Slurp everyone's details

      It will. Assumed of course you are using Android or IOS as slurping is built-in in both and you can't disable it by any means. Even phone which is seemingly *off* is slurping everything and you can't remove the battery. How convinient.

      The versions of "app" I've seen are just an UI on top of Android service which will run all the time, collecting "data" and sending it to Google.

      They claim they don't do that, but that's obvious bulls**it: They will because of billions in profits and "privacy is dead" is the company motto.

      Who's the idiot who believes they *won't* obey company basic rules, just in this one case?

  6. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Sunset?

    The whole thing smells to high heaven, but let's assume they're just not too bright, rather than maliciously planning something.

    It's an emergency, Okay. Some normal rules may need to be relaxed. Okay.

    But the situation has some very clear time limitations. We know how long COVID takes to incubate or become obvious, three weeks tops. So is there any justification for NOT automatically deleting all records each day once they are past 3 weeks old? They are of no use to trace contacts of infected people who might themselves have become infected.

    And once the emergency is over, or daily infections are down to x, then the app stops collecting data. It could be re-enabled is there was a new peak, but say 6 months after that then the apps are instructed to uninstall themselves.

    Having a 'die on' date built into the app (12 months time?) wouldn't be unreasonable either.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Sunset?

      "let's assume they're just not too bright, rather than maliciously planning something."

      The two are not mutually exclusive given that there's more than one body involved here, the NHS and those who get the job of implementing it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sunset?

        Not only them: Google and Apple too.

        Both of those corporations literally slurp *everything* from the phone already. Who believes they won't slurp this data also?

        I don't, not a second.

    2. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Sunset?

      A “die” date: The value of this kind of app is highest when there are few infected. Everyone lives normal, and the few unlucky ones close to someone infected get locked down immediately. Same as back when we had 100 infected except the numbers don’t go up.

    3. CommanderGalaxian

      Re: Sunset?

      Why don't they just use the same app as the Australina Gov is using - where everything is stored locally on the user's phone, and contact tracing can only occur if the (subsequently infected) user of the phone enters their password to decrypt the contact details and allow tracing to begin.

  7. Ybslik

    I hear and read what everyone says they are going to do, but no one yet knows...so armchair theorists come up with what they think is going to happen.

    When will those that scaremonger come up with what they will do in its place. We need to have an efficient way of tracking this virus, we need data, vast amounts of it.

    Please explain how you would help in this COVID19 era instead of picking holes and being judgemental.

    Yes I appreciate the --- they are going to use all this data to spy on us -- they will know what i an doing -- i do not need big brother watching me --

    So come up with a way of collecting this data which is so important at this moment in time.

    1. deive
      Facepalm

      There is an alternative literally in the article.

      edit... ah - one post, joined today...

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Yeah - funny, that.

    2. Andy Non Silver badge

      I guess the bare minimum way of tackling this would require people to disclose their phone number so they can be contacted by SMS or via the app. If the proximity with other people is done purely using bluetooth then location would not be needed, only a log of whose phone you were near, when and for how long (i.e. did you stand chatting to them for twenty minutes or race past them on a bicycle). Recording location data would be a grey area in my opinion as it could be legitimately useful but also is a significant intrusion into privacy.

      I'll balk at installing the app though if I need to enter name, address, date of birth, ethnicity, NHS number, inside leg measurement etc.

    3. Graham 32

      > So come up with a way of collecting this data which is so important at this moment in time.

      Apple and Google have already come up with a way that doesn't required it to be collected.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re: Apple and Google have...

        Yeah but the bit of the NHS drveloping this app have been told that 'NIH' is the rule of the day here. Followed by 'we don't want any foreign code in our app' (or words to that effect)

        That said, I would not want to be on the wrong end of a future select committee grilling over why the solution that is being used by so many countries was not selected.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          'we don't want any foreign code in our app'

          Probably best not to get it created by Palantir then - they're American

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: re: Apple and Google have...

          I'm still waiting for the code drop. Hatt Mancock did say they were going to open source it. Then we can see how much of that there foreign code there actually is.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Apple and Google have already come up with a way that doesn't required it to be collected."

        No, they mean NHS doesn't need to collect it. It's obvious that *they will collect it*. For sale and targeted advertising.

        If you believe they aren't collecting and storing *everything*, I'm afraid I've bad news for you: They will.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "we need data, vast amounts of it."

      Who's this "we" of whom you write? NHS? The Home Office? Sheffield Council? Local dog warden? The parking vultures who operate my local B & Q car park?

      That letter was written by people who know you don't get to put toothpaste back n the tube.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Useless data collecting is useless. Too hard?

      "So come up with a way of collecting this data which is so important at this moment in time."

      Collecting useless data *is not important*. And it will be useless when there're 99% of false positives. Zero doubts about that.

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    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Yet Another Hierachial Anonynmous Coward

    Smartphones

    Presumably this will download and operate on all flavours of smartphone, upto, say 10 years old, not just those of a recent apple or google variety?

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: Presumably this will download and operate on all flavours of smartphone...

      Given UK gov's technical mastery and ability to deliver workable, working IT projects, that seems incredibly unlikely.

      Frankly I'll be amazed if it actually works at all. Expectations are low. Looking forward to buggy, power-hungry, privacy-leaking surveillance-enabling steaming piles and massive server under-provisioning.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Presumably this will download and operate on all flavours of smartphone...

        "massive server under-provisioning"

        Given that it's only useful as a front end to a virus testing service the server under-provision might possibly hide some of the testing under-provision.

      2. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: Presumably this will download and operate on all flavours of smartphone...

        “Massive server underprovisioning” - apple/Google need about 1Kb per person catching the virus. And everything deleted when it’s more than 14 days old.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Presumably this will download and operate on all flavours of smartphone...

          "And everything deleted when it’s more than 14 days old."

          As if Google or Apple *ever* delete anything. Won't happen.

      3. JohnMurray

        Re: Presumably this will download and operate on all flavours of smartphone...

        The NHS app works very well, so far. So does the app that my GP-IT service uses (Airmid) (so far). So does access to the GP service directly (Systmonline) (the Airmid provider).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Presumably this will download and operate on all flavours of smartphone...

          I woldn't say Systmonline is terrible, but it's not great either. There appears to be no way to recover a forgotten usrname - a rather likely scenario given that many people rarely need to use it. Also, if you know someone's name and email address then the password recovery system allows you to workout their DOB (at least based upon the username format our surgery uses - I'm not sure if it is standard). So that's 2 issues without even having logged on yet!

    2. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Smartphones

      Nothing runs on any smartphone ten years old. Cheaper to give people newer phones.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Smartphones

        I only recently had my 8 year old work mobile replaced. It ran all of the stuff I needed without issue. It was only when work switched to using Teams that it needed replacing about 6 months ago.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Smartphones

        BS, Even Doom runs a smartphone 10 years old. (Symbian in this case).

        This guy has no idea what he's talking about. At all.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Smartphones

          Any my old Blackberry?

    3. Brangdon

      Re: Smartphones

      It needs low power Bluetooth, so very old phones won't support it.

  10. Andy Non Silver badge

    Fraudsters will likely clone the app

    with one or two modifications and require you to enter your credit card number - for age verification purposes of course.

    (Sorry, I'm just a cynic, always looking for the worst)

    1. Saruman the White

      Re: Fraudsters will likely clone the app

      And seldom disappointed I suspect.

  11. ColinPa

    How to stop people from having "fun"

    What protection is there to stop some joker having fun and broadcasting "Ive got it" to every one, and leaving phones hidden outside a hospital.

    It would be good to read the plans to prevent this sort of thing.

    1. Bob7300

      Re: How to stop people from having "fun"

      Apparently you can only declare yourself infected with a code from a doctor after a test.

      1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: How to stop people from having "fun"

        "code from a doctor after a test."

        So, never then?

    2. Boothy Silver badge

      Re: How to stop people from having "fun"

      They already said* that if you get diagnosed, you get a verification code on the document telling you you've got COVID-19, and you have to enter that into the app, in order to declare "I've got it".

      * For example one on BBC News : quote: "To report testing positive, the user would have to enter a verification code, which they would have received alongside their Covid-19 status." : Article here

      I've not seen any details yet, so I've no idea if this will be a unique code, one only usable by a single person, time limited, how these are generated etc. Guess we have to wait for the full details yet.

      My guess would be they'll release a private companion app, or web site, that has to be used by whoever creates the Covid-19 reports (or add it to an existing Covid-19 reporting solution, assuming there is one), they enter a few of the persons details, and it generates a code, perhaps using the persons details as a seed, to make it unique, so no one else could use it?

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: How to stop people from having "fun"

        "they enter a few of the persons details, and it generates a code, perhaps using the persons details as a seed, to make it unique, so no one else could use it?"

        I'm hoping there'll be private keys involved. But the keys and the algorithm used to generate the code will leak - far too many people will need it.

  12. Alister Silver badge

    Slurp everyone's details and you create a hugely valuable hacker target

    Surely not, such information would be securely protected like... oh I don't know, ANPR data?

  13. SWCD

    What could go wrong

    Look, this is the government, not some shonky ham-fisted private outfit. The quicker the database is online the better.

    It could issue each user with a UID, like a number plate for a human. Then, via a search form, government approved personnel could query said database, and look for locations of where each user had been, and how close they'd been to anyone else. For security, it could be hosted on a really high IP address where no-one would ever look, it wouldn't even have to have a URL pointing at it. Sheffield council would be game to trial it I'd bet.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: What could go wrong

      LOL, I see at least two people have no idea what you are talking about. Maybe you should have used a joke icon for their benefit,

    2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: What could go wrong

      @SWDC - don't give them ideas, FFS!!

  14. Peter Prof Fox

    Great idea (Not)

    This way it'll be able to track down which phone masts are giving us the virus.

    So I'm in my house and somebody walks past the front window. Ping! and a light flashes on the console of the hollowed-out volcano.

    Hey look Sarge. Red alert! Get out the riot gear. Ice cream van in the park has hundreds of people 'near' it.

    * Remember GPS positioning isn't accurate to the nearest metre.*

    There is no way 'near' can be interpreted as 'a close contact with a probability of transmission'.

    The key to success is not space but time. If somebody tests as infectious then you want to trace contacts ASAP. Sooner if possible.

    The ever so easy way is (a) record tracks with data remaining on personal mobile phone. This can be done as GPS etc, but more usefully as postcode-ish size zones and transport journeys and shops. I wouldn't expect the state of the NHS (National Hacking Service) to have the AI to work out you're on the 8:15 train from Biggleswade, but there is another solution. All busy areas have wi-fi hotspots. We can use those as beacons to tag locations including trains and buses.

    (b) If needed, in the first instance this is a diary prompt for who was at your Dettol drinking party. The clue is in the phrase close acquaintance.

    This might lead to a triage of people at further risk.

    (c) Algorithmically we can upload a beacon/time history to a central server as step 1. (When infection confirmed.) Step 2: Now to alert people who might have been at the same place and time. "Hey" (subset of people known to frequent the busier hot spots regularly as a rough filter so as not to broadcast Carlisle stuff to Cornwall.) "mobiles, compare your tracks with our Lurgi Locus" Step 3 is a result of 'Coughing Charlie was in SHOPINGCENTREHOTSPOT at 11:43:12 to 11:55:35 2020:04:29 ' from which a human-target message can appear (info derived from (b) above) on the phone saying "An infectious male in his 50s, Blue Overcoat, receding hair, was in Sainsburys on Wednesday approximately between 11:30 and 12. He then may have caught the same bus as yourself."

    False alarms will sink the system. The time/place scheme is going to be overflowing with irrelevant alerts. Great for fostering paranoia, but otherwise worse than useless. So the suggestions system outlined in (c) where there's real-world information on which people can judge is needed.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Great idea (Not)

      I think the basis is that proximity has to continue for some threshold period. OTOH it would need to add up the number of sub-threshold encounters. After all, it's some level of probability that should be the trigger.

      But I think you're right. It will generate a lot of false positives, too many for those thus identified to be isolated. It needs to be the fornt-end for testing and a more capale testing system than currently exists.

  15. TDog
    Big Brother

    RIPA

    So what happens if a malicious agency (e.g. pensions or a local council) decides to use RIPA - to quote from the relevant code of practice

    https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/496064/53659_CoP_Communications_Accessible.pdf

    "3.8. Section 2 of RIPA defines “telecommunication service” as any

    service that consists in the provision of access to, and of facilities for

    making use of, any telecommunication system. Section 2(8A) of RIPA

    makes clear that any service which consists in or includes facilitating

    the creation, management or storage of communications transmitted,

    or that may be transmitted, by means of such a system are included

    within the meaning of “telecommunications service”. Internet based

    services such as web-based email, messaging applications and cloudbased services are, therefore, covered by this definition. The

    definition of “telecommunications service” in RIPA is intentionally

    broad so that it remains relevant for new technologies. "

    So RIPA does cover this anonymous data. Perhaps the local police will use it to identify alleged breaches of the lock in (sorry, but it's not really that) and prosecute?

    Not saying we shouldn't do it, am saying it is neither anonymous nor secure under today's laws and as such theoretical arguments about potential hacks or potential state access are inappropriate - the state already has legal access to the data and with so many different organisations having those powers then private enterprise will probably not ever get a look in.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: RIPA

      You're right about excessive access by TPTB but private enterprise will get a look in - they'll be running it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: RIPA

        "they'll be running it."

        .. not just any "private enterprise" but Google, known privacy hater. Apple too but motivation isn't so obvious.

        They act like a bear with its paws deep in honey pot all the time. I don't wonder: Billions of people health data to be mined and sold. With their location, nearby wifis and bluetooth devices.

        I bet Google is having a wet dream on this, hundreds of millions or billions in profits.

        "Privacy? What's that? We hate it." - Motto of Google.

  16. Danny Boyd

    Who said it?

    Who said "Each people has the government it deserves"? I heard it attributed to Bismark.

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Who said it?

      “Who said "Each people has the government it deserves"?”

      When the USA got Ronald Reagan, half agreed with this saying, half didn’t. With Trump, everyone agrees. With Johnson? No, we don’t deserve him and Cummings and Gove and Patel and the rest of the bunch.

      1. Bob7300

        Re: Who said it?

        Don't think any people deserve Trump.

        Even if they voted for him and love him.

        They don't deserve him just because they believed his lies.

      2. LucasNorth

        Re: Who said it?

        yes we do because half of people actually want Johnson and the other half were so stupid to vote for an antisemite that having Johnson as their PM is a just punishment

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: Who said it?

          You clearly haven't read anything about the leaked Labour Party report recently. The allegations of Corbyn's antisemitism seem to have been, if not entirely made up, then certainly VERY exaggerated by people on the party who wanted a different leader. For more, just DDG "leaked Labour Party report".

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Who said it?

        No-one deserves Trump and he "won" only because Republicans large scale election fraud.

        That continues even worse in 2020 and USA is basically a 3rd world country now: Not a single honest voting state exist.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Guys, what’s all the fuss about.

    Don’t you know that there currently exists two (non gov) U.K. clinical system suppliers holding pretty much the entire population of England between them. Centrally. I wouldn’t be worrying about this little old contact tracking thing...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Guys, what’s all the fuss about.

      From a primary care perspective yes.

      1. Mark Solfer

        Re: Guys, what’s all the fuss about.

        ...and secondary care

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Guys, what’s all the fuss about.

          No. There are a multitude of PAS systems, not controlled by two vendors at all.

          1. Mark Solfer

            Re: Guys, what’s all the fuss about.

            Yes, there are a number of PAS suppliers out there. The suppliers referred to in the original post are primary care focused with some secondary care data - I should have been more specific.

            The PAS systems are however, each a small island of varying (depending of the skill of the supplier/infrastructure team) secure/insecure demographic and some clinical data.

            The original (slightly tongue in cheek) point of the post wasn’t on specific supplier types but simply to point out that suppliers (primary care focused) CURRENTLY hold and manage a vast amount of demographics AND medical information in centralised repositories, they also hold some secondary care specific data. And as such this could also (depending whether you approve of a centralised method of storage) be cause for concern along with the new nhs developed centralised contact tracing solution.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Guys, what’s all the fuss about.

      There's a whole lot of stuff they don't hold and ou don't have to load their app on your phone to use them.

      1. Mark Solfer

        Re: Guys, what’s all the fuss about.

        And a whole load more such as your clinical data, demographics etc

    3. EnviableOne Silver badge

      Re: Guys, what’s all the fuss about.

      Together People Please lets not allow this to happem

      Everyone Matters Including System providers

      both as bad as each other

      to be fair, with the IPA they dont need an app to do tracing, well government dont, for some reason the NHS got missed off the list of agencies that can get a streeam of your telephone meta-data, but the Marine Management Organisationare on there....

  18. IGotOut Silver badge

    But....

    ...my Bluetooth is off 90% of the time. I only turn it on to listen to music or in the car.

    Add to the fact I'm on a buggy version of Android that cripples internet connection over WiFi, I have no intention of turning it on by default.

    Then there is the big fact, I don't carry my phone with me all the time.

    And what about my parents who don't have a clue what Bluetooth is.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: But....

      "I have no intention of turning it on by default."

      Then you won't be able to install the app anyway, even if you so choose because it will require permission to enable and access the bluetooth subsystem. Since the inference of your comment is that you're not going to even attempt to install it, then it doesn't really matter whether it requires BT to be on or off.

      I would assume you have the same feelings regarding using the even more power hungry and even less accurate GPS method of contact tracing, so the entire concept of a track and trace app is moot from your point of view, whether it's a centralised or distributed DB in use.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It won't work unless there's >60% take-up over the entire UK population

    So just waiting for them to make emergency laws to make installation of this compulsory.

    "Comrades, we must know everything".

    - Erich Mielke, head of GDR Ministerium für Staatsicherheit, better known as the Stasi.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: It won't work unless there's >60% take-up over the entire UK population

      There will be a SailfishOS version, then?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It won't work unless there's >60% take-up over the entire UK population

        I'm using Symbian, do I get also a version?

        I don't think so. Even less for S40 or S60.

  20. tonyyaman

    NHSX

    it will not be safe cos they have had stuff leak before am not gonna use it the google and apple one will be more better and safe nhsx is a bad joke

  21. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Against tracking?

    This letter objecting to tracking is posted on Google Drive, some of the 29 separate javascript driven page components of which almost certainly track you voraciously. It would be great if there was an alternative download that didn't. Clearly (as usual) someone didn't do their homework.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dusting off my old 6310 as we speak

    I am dusting of my old Synbian mobile phone, so back to "Dum" phones like E71 and older 6310, benefit is it looks like its back to 5 days before it needs a charge.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dusting off my old 6310 as we speak

      E71 *isn't* a dumb phone. Not just android/ios but that's irrelevant.

      I've 3110 (the old one): That's a phone with text messaging capablities and nothing else. And runs a week with one charge.

  23. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Devil

    Put Sir Iain Duncan Smith in charge of it.

  24. WibbleMe

    My semy autistic brain says that the perfect system for this would be Googles FireBase as the dad would be recorded efficiently and be unhackable... unless you hacked Google

  25. tiggity Silver badge

    Some vulnerable people missed anyway

    Warning - over simplification / generalisation, I know some old folk are keen on their phones .... but..

    Given that older people more likely to be vulnerable to COVID-19, coupled with older people less likely to slavishly carry mobiles, and if they do carry them, many are happy with quite basic models (e.g. basic call & text only mobiles popular - no app installation on those phones) then its not much use for a section of the older demographic.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Are you sure you want to criticise the NHS?

    The NHS fanatics will have theregister on their register with people getting ready to castigate theregister throughout the Media. Mobmentum are likely preparing retaliatory action right now.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Are you sure you want to criticise the NHS?

      It's HMG we're criticising and in that we're only adding to criticism about PPE from NHS staff.

  27. Velv
    Go

    Time to encourage everyone to watch "V for Vendetta" again

    1. a handle

      Surveillance :-) What politicians say and what they do. I believe this for our greater good in many cases, but overall I'll do what I want to do depending on my experiences, now lets see, these vary.

      NHS, l like them I trust them.

      I wonder how the RIPA Act effects this, i.e I think this means Government bodies can do whatever they want with the data.

      Being told to stay at home:

      ---Scotland's chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood is arrogant, she says do as I say not what I do, TWICE.

      ---New Zealand health minister David Clark is arrogant, he says do as I say not what I do, TWICE.

      I think I'd like to watch the new movie Official Secrets, because it has Keira Knightley and also: ... The true story of GCHQ employee Katharine Gun, who leaked a secret memo exposing an illegal spying operation by the United States of America, looking for information with which to gauge sentiment of and potentially blackmail United Nations diplomats tasked to vote on a resolution regarding the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

      1. Claverhouse Silver badge

        Plus British Housing Minister Robert Jenrick ignored the lockdown to visit his parents.

        1. disinterested observer

          To deliver food to his parents, but don't let the truth get in the way of a good story.

        2. mrtickleuk
          Facepalm

          Visiting elderly parents who are isolated to deliver food/medicine is allowed.

  28. old_IT_guy

    this poses a dilemma

    Is there any body or organisation we can trust to:

    - collect that data securely

    - store that data securely

    - delete that data when it's no longer considered valid or needed

    - refrain from abusing that data either themselves or by selling it on to others

    I suggest the answer to all the above is a resounding No.

    That leaves us with a dilemma - what's overall worse, refusing to use the app with consequences for the number of deaths and length of the lock-down or just going with it knowing that they'll make a mess of it and likely abuse it in some way either deliberately or by virtue of thorough incompetence.

    It's a hard one for me to answer at any rate.

    1. ChipsforBreakfast

      Re: this poses a dilemma

      The answer is blindingly obvious and has already been adopted in many other countries - don't collect the data at all, at least not centrally. It's not needed for the stated purpose of the app (contact tracing & alerting) which can be accomplished just as well by a decentralised system.

      The only benefit to centralisation would be the ability to directly contact potentially infected people (as opposed to just having an app provide an alert) but for that to work you need personally identifiable information on record as well as the list of contacts...which instantly becomes a tool for mass surveillance, like it or not.

      This is NOT about contact tracing, it's about state surveillance of the population. The fact that you can have one without the other is the message we as the technically literate & privacy aware need to be trying to hammer into the collective consciousness of everyone else.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: this poses a dilemma

        " It's not needed for the stated purpose of the app (contact tracing & alerting) which can be accomplished just as well by a decentralised system."

        Which Google & Apple want as then *they'd* be the sole organizations to have that data.

        To sell, of course: No other reason to collect it.

        "This is NOT about contact tracing, it's about state surveillance of the population"

        Not only state, Google and Apple tighten their grip on surveillance. And there's nothing you can do to stop that as surveillance is baked into OS and don't need any separate application to happen.

        Totally legal now as there's an excuse to do it.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The inventor of Bluetooth has said Bluetooth is unsuitable

    The inventor of Bluetooth has said Bluetooth is unsuitable in response to the Netherlands proposal to build its own application.

    See here (in Dutch)

    https://www.computable.nl/artikel/nieuws/security/6919575/250449/uitvinder-vindt-bluetooth-ongeschikt-voor-corona-app.html

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: The inventor of Bluetooth has said Bluetooth is unsuitable

      The argument is basically that Bluetooth doesn't give a sufficiently accurate distance estimate.

      Equally, we don't really know what a safe distance actually is - there is evidence of possible transmission at distances greater than 2m.

      It's possible that a more useful measure would be the amount of time people spent in bluetooth range of one another, regardless of what the exact range might be.

      But that's a more fundamental problem - it's not clear if any proximity metric is sufficiently good for the stated purpose and it might take quite some time to find out while the app slurps away, potentially in futility.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The inventor of Bluetooth has said Bluetooth is unsuitable

        The 2m rule is very rough rule though. 3,4,5,6m is still easily a sneezable or coughable if the breeze is going that way.

        But I don't think the distance is a major worry though, the great advantage is that the bluetooth proximity will alert you that you could have touched something they did. I personally believe touch more frequently infects people than inhalation of a droplet. i.e. your finger gets dirty, you then touch your eye or mouth directly or through food/pen etc).

        I am not saying that the tool won't be misused in other ways by government bodies.

  30. Pat Att

    Think of the plus side ...

    Facebook will soon be sending friend suggestions for everyone you have been close to in the last three months!

    (This is a joke by the way. I won't be using the app).

  31. Ramis101
    Alert

    What about all the BT vulnerabilites?

    Older, but not yet considered antient, smart phones that aren't getting patched have some nasty BT vulns so leaving my BT on has always been a no way! plus it saves a lot of battery.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I didn't spend all of this time with no social media accounts and no google services to let the government have such personal data. There is zero chance I will ever use one of these apps

  33. Roger Kynaston Bronze badge
    Mushroom

    nhsxxx

    when will the pron version that collects sexual history come along?

  34. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    With the best will in the world, getting 60% of the population to sign up to an app is going to be hard work. I would have thought it's better to have 60% using an app that doesn't quite get all the useful info is better than having well under 60% using an app that gets more useful info.

  35. tfb Silver badge
    Boffin

    I wonder whether they have actually thought this through?

    Let's assume that the centralised system does actually offer some benefit over the distributed one, other things being equal. But other things are not equal: a system which is more widely used also offers more benefit, and in fact a system which is not widely-enough used becomes almost useless: this is basically the same maths that go for herd immunity and it's not linear or anything like it. So, well, the centralised system is, one way and another, going to be used less widely than the non-centralised one, because people are worried about the privacy issues (I don't even know if I would use it: I understand it isn't just about protecting me but other people, but, well: I would certainly pay money for an antibody test if they were reliable enough and a positive result meant I did not need to feel guilty about not using the app).

    So, have they done the maths? Will it actually work enough better than the distributed version to counter the less-wide deployment? Or have they just picked a company who are 'good at this sort of thing', on the advice of Cummings probably (who is 'good at this sort of thing' at least in his own opinion), and they're trusting the advice of that company. When that company is Palantir, do not trust them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I wonder whether they have actually thought this through?

      "Will it actually work enough better than the distributed version to counter the less-wide deployment?"

      The actual question here is "Do you mind if government gets the same data as Google and Apple will get anyway"?

      Because the fact is that if your phone knows something, *anything*, phone OS owner also knows it: Absolutely zero privacy or secrets. The way Google/Apple want it.

      Also both will store the data in the US so it's freely sellable to anyone and anywhere. Violation of GDPR of course but both break it all the time anyway so they don't care at all: Too big to sue.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I wonder whether they have actually thought this through?

      "When that company is Palantir, do not trust them."

      I do agree on this, but Apple or Google? You trust on *them*?

    3. CommanderGalaxian

      Re: I wonder whether they have actually thought this through?

      They picked the same company that did the Vote Leave mega-slurp data hoovering to develop the app.

  36. Andy Goss

    Minimalist OZ version

    The Australian app will, purportedly, only log the id's of lengthy close contacts, and not locations. The data will stay on the phone for 21 days before being deleted. It is only uploaded, by permission, if an app user is diagnosed as positive. Then all stored contacts can be traced and checked for the virus.

    There are several issues, one being that the uploaded data will be stored by Amazon, another that the data and key will be stored together, a bit like putting your door key under a flowerpot.

    The govt has promised to publish the source code, I suspect somewhat redacted, but has yet to do so. The app is a bit buggy, especially the Apple version, and the Android one needs Android 6 or better, not the "all Android" that was promised.

    1. disinterested observer

      Re: Minimalist OZ version

      With many of your caveats, Troy Hunt and Geoffrey Huntley endorse it, which is quite the recommendation.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NHS is a minor problem here, really.

    "they say could endanger users by creating a centralised store of sensitive health and travel data about them."

    This is of course correct but they are missing the point: Whatever data it is collecting, *Google will have it* and there's no way to stop that.

    Then you have "centralised store of sensitive health and travel data" a) in the USA and b) fully legal to sell literally anyone, forever.

    Compared to that NHS (and UK intelligence and NSA, of course) having such information isn't a problem at all.

    1. ChipsforBreakfast

      Re: NHS is a minor problem here, really.

      No, google won't have it - that's the point. The system proposed by Apple & Google is decentralised, there is no central store of data to mine/sell/monetise/hack - it just does not exist. The data is held on each individual phone which polls, at intervals, for the ID's last confirmed to have the virus. The phone does the matching against it's local database of contacts and alerts you if it finds one that's on the latest infected list.

      The list of contacts is NEVER sent anywhere.There's no 'master list' of everyone's contacts, anywhere, yet it can still function perfectly well as a contact tracing & alerting tool.

      It's a very good example of designing a system to do one job, and only one job. It collects only what's absolutely necessary for it to function, transmits only what you let it and provides information only to you.

      There is literally NO need for a central data store at all to accomplish the stated aim of this app.

  38. Who knew?

    This would not work, however...

    Without technology advances we would not have this virus to start off with. All you have to do is look at past events.

    1916 - emergence of Radio Waves

    1918 - Spanish Flu outbreak

    2003 - 3G introduced to the world

    2003 - SARS outbreak

    2009 - 4G introduced to the world

    2009 - Swine flu outbreak

    2019/20 - 5G introduced to the world

    2019/20 - Coronavirus outbreak

    Anyway regarding the tracker it would not work as people can switch off phones and batteries can die.

    I think that all humans should be chipped from birth. As technology advances the more you will be able to do with the chip. You could monitor the health of the body. Track where people are and disarm terrorists through sending an electronic pulse through body to disarm them or even kill them.

    Also you could get information and tv etc transfered to your brain. Know about someone's background when meeting. We wont need money or mobile phones. Possibilities are endless.

    It will be in the year 2030-2040 when this will be more popular. Transhumanism will be a thing. We will get different kind of viruses. Ironically being trans will have a different meaning and everyone will be trans. You have heard it here first. I've seen the future. One world one connection no government.

    The question is what would the world be like with no government?

  39. magumba

    Nightingales

    .....the new app is offered with your best interests and for your own good.....HOWEVER.....We forgot to mention that the data WILL be used to identify anyone who may possibly be infected with flu like symptoms we can then take them to our approved isolation centre/s for their own and the NHS safety....I know we said the Nightingale hospitals were for the inrush of batfloo cases however due to function creep we have rebranded all the Nightingale hospitals as Regional centres for the isolation of the brave soldiers of the fascist communist kingdom of seperated states of Hibernia/Albion/Cymru/North Erse....STAY AT HOME...STAY SAFE....OR ELSE

  40. trickyearlobe

    Is the simple solution to just open source it?

    Why not just open source the client and server apps so we can see how it protects our data.

    Its unlikely to be using any proprietary algorithms that might be considered IP.

    We could also allow the user to opt out of collection of any fields they are not comfortable sharing.

    I think most people are adult enough to make their own decisions about what's appropriate to share.

    They can also uninstall the app when they no longer wish to be tracked. It's not compulsory to run it.

    We really don't need to nanny everyone for their own good, we need to track COVID19 and find out how it behaves.

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