back to article Switzerland 'first' country to roll out contact-tracing app using Apple-Google APIs to track coronavirus spread

Switzerland says it is the first country to roll out a contact-tracing app for the COVID-19 coronavirus using technology and a set of APIs produced jointly by Apple and Google. The launch – which is admittedly, for now, limited to a pilot group of essential workers in the country – comes well before the UK is due to widely …

  1. mt1

    UK App is noy teleasing tomorrow will be sometime next month possibly

    Track and track in UK will not be using app at launch

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      UK app

      Sure - we've made it clearer it's the track-and-trace stuff today.

      C.

    2. Beeblebrox

      PRC app

      In the meantime, it's reassuring to know that the technology used in the PRC may become mandatory post covid-19 to track future medical conditions.

      The West should be aware that like minded bureaucrats may want to follow suit.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UK app

    Probably more security holes and back orifices than a Swiss cheese.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: UK app

      Between the devil and the deep blue sea - google/apple or government IT.

      I'll keep putting my phone on aeroplane mode when out and about.

      1. CommanderGalaxian

        Re: UK app

        Why not just leave it at home?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Track and Trace UK needs renaming to Bend and Over

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sorry, this handle is exclusively locked by the foreign relations towards the US.

    2. macjules Silver badge

      It is now - guess who is in charge of it? None other than Dido "STFU-STFU" Harding

      1. ibmalone Silver badge

        What the heck? There are over 65 million people in the UK, but sometimes it seems like there must be just five.

        1. EnviableOne Silver badge

          My thoughts exactly when somone thought it was a good idea to appoint her head of the Hospital regulating NHS Improvement.....

          with Dame Dido of Talk-Talk and App Hancock involved there is no chance this will ever work or be secure

  4. jmch Silver badge

    Why bother?

    Probability that enough people will install it to make a significant public health difference (60% of population according to the article) = 0

    Probability that any data made available to government or corporations will be abused = 1

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Why bother?

      Because, in the absence of a vaccine and a list of reliable and safe treatments, governments want to be seen doing something. And an app makes them look "modern" and digitally competent.

      The rollout out for medical personnel also makes sense: a hospital is a great place to catch a diseaese, whether it's covid-19 or anything else, so you can imagine this, or something similar, becoming standard practice in future: instead of phones use some kind of badge for checking, controlling the hardware should improve the efficacy of any system because distance assessments should be more reliable.

      But the general application of this app has moved further into the technological utopia.

      1. CommanderGalaxian

        Re: Why bother?

        Dystopia, you mean.

    2. ibmalone Silver badge

      Re: Why bother?

      Apparently Iceland got extremely high take up. People there are used to taking part in medical research (they've also got a large gene bank).

      By extremely high, I mean they made it to 40%.

      1. genghis_uk Bronze badge

        Re: Why bother?

        So that's 40% of 320,000 people, half of which live in the Reykjavik area...

        Not exactly a resounding success story

        1. ibmalone Silver badge

          Re: Why bother?

          Well, yes, though I wouldn't jeer based on those two points. 40% is 40%, we're talking about probabilities of people's uptake, so there's no reason to believe it wouldn't scale if Iceland had more people of a similar type (though one reason for this high degree of health research engagement in Iceland is the small population). Most European countries have a high proportion of people living in a metropolitan area, the UK's may be higher than Iceland (I got >79% off the first hit on Google, https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2009/aug/18/percentage-population-living-cities though it might not be like-for-like), although I don't really see why that would make a difference.

          However, Iceland's population is younger and they're a pretty tech-ed up country. And estimates are we need about 60% uptake overall for the app to be useful so, not encouraging was the point I was making.

          1. Mark 65

            Re: Why bother?

            They can’t be that tech-savvy if they’re willing to install spyware.

  5. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Contact tracing?

    So this has never been necessary before and nobody ever saw any reason to develop anything for it? It seems that nobody ever thought that there would ever be a pandemic or epidemic that might need this happening. We were caught completely unprepared because the government ignored any suggestion that there might be anything like this in the future. I guess some government advisors just thought that even if it did happen, they could just drive around and it wouldn't be a problem.

    1. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Contact tracing?

      I guess some government advisors just thought that even if it did happen, they could just drive around and it wouldn't be a problem.

      Are you suggesting that some government advisors took such a short-sighted approach to the prospect of pandemics that they needed their eyes testing?

    2. Olius

      Re: Contact tracing?

      "So this has never been necessary before"

      Correct.

      Necessity, as they say, is the brother of invention.

      1. EnviableOne Silver badge

        Re: Contact tracing?

        Necessity, as they say, is the brMother of invention

        FTFY in so far as it gives birth to the invention

        1. Olius

          Re: Contact tracing?

          Thanks for the fix, but I was (mis)quoting Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels :-)

    3. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Contact tracing?

      "So this has never been necessary before and nobody ever saw any reason to develop anything for it? It seems that nobody ever thought that there would ever be a pandemic or epidemic that might need this happening."

      It's only been the last couple of years where such an app has even been possible.

      "We were caught completely unprepared because the government ignored any suggestion that there might be anything like this in the future."

      You mean every government in the world. There was nobody anywhere that had a pandemic tracking app ready to roll. Some countries already had tracking apps that they repurposed, but those were for a very different use.

  6. Mike Shepherd
    Meh

    Switzerland as a model

    In Switzerland, they say, everything is either forbidden or compulsory. Its compliant citizens are probably not a good model for how apps will be received elsewhere.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Switzerland as a model

      Yes, the Swiss are "compliant" but they have a model of decision making and democracy that reaches down to the lowest local levels from the cantons down so most feel they actually have a say in the decisions that are made so will therefore be ok with being "compliant".

      1. SJA

        Re: Switzerland as a model

        It's called semi-direct democracy.

        1. genghis_uk Bronze badge

          Re: Switzerland as a model

          As opposed to 'semi-democracy' that the rest of us have.

          The Swiss get to vote on the big ticket bills every quarter so they are bought into a lot of what the Government implements. As they have already agreed the changes, yes, they are compliant. If they disagreed, the changes would not be introduced. (Ok, a bit of a simplification but close enough for argument)

          1. Jim Birch

            Re: Switzerland as a model

            They are almost all well-educated, basically law abiding and socially cooperative, and just don't have the same level of anti-government and privacy fetish the anglo world has. An app like this is effective if everyone uses it and more-or-less useless if only a small fraction of people use it. Most people who refuse the app won't be in the covid death demographic so won't have the self-interest factor they might have if they had a mate or two who carked. It will be interesting to see how this goes in different cultural settings, especially in places that have further big outbreaks after reopening things.

            1. anonanonanonanon

              Re: Switzerland as a model

              The swiss are very privacy conscious, more so than the anglo world, this is the country of secret bank accounts, google street view wasn't allowed for years over privacy concerns. But also, they're also pretty sensible

    2. ratfox Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Switzerland as a model

      One possible reason for the fast launch is that Swiss universities had a hand in the development of the DP-3T decentralized protocol. Newspapers in Switzerland act as if it was invented there, so national pride is involved.

      And yet, even in Switzerland, polls seem to indicate nowhere near enough people will download the app...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How do we know if it is any good?

    My main issue with the Google/Apple solution is that there is no way to tell if it is any good. It could be the biggest pile of steaming crap or the holy grail but there is no way to quantify it. If that is the case why even bother?

    Everyone, even including anyone on here and privacy experts, is susceptible to fear-mongering and conspiracy theories and this means any covid tracking app is going to be doomed to failure. They should just slap a "works with 5G" badge on it and see what happens then.

    Personally I wish it was a solution and I very much disbelieve the conspiracy theories about what the British government would do with tracking information. After all their track record of producing IT systems is not in their favour. I wouldn't have a problem installing the app and letting them see me sitting at home for the next 2 months before I uninstall the app. It would just be the same as the last 2 months anyway. Like virtually everyone - I'm not very interesting to the government.

    1. tony2heads

      Re: How do we know if it is any good?

      The Google/Apple solution could be pile of steaming crap, but would the British government come out with anything better?

    2. RM Myers Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: How do we know if it is any good?

      "...even including anyone on here..., is susceptible to fear-mongering and conspiracy theories..."

      Even? Surely you meant especially!

    3. EnviableOne Silver badge

      Re: How do we know if it is any good?

      the issue is not what the british government will do with the information, its what the self titled Baron of Barnard Castle and this cronies at Palantir and ex-Cambrige Analytica will do with it.

      also, a realisation that this large dataset will be a target and UK.gov dont have the skill or resource ot protect it effectivley, so eventually world+dog will have access to it, and that when stuff starts to get scarey...

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Do they have an estimate of the number of false positives, as a percentage of the presumed contacts and as a percentage of the total population condemned to self-isolation. That would be essential to judge the impact of this? I haven't seen an impact assessment of UK version, manual or automated. I suppose it's just one more of those things to be discovered the hard way to be blindingly obvious.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      "Do they have an estimate of the number of false positives, as a percentage of the presumed contacts and as a percentage of the total population condemned to self-isolation. "

      Unconstrained R0 is around 3. So (on average) you will have n-3 false positives, where n is the number of distinct people you interact with over the last week or so (I think, but am not sure, that this is the period in question).

      Of course, not everyone has the app. If m do (0 < m < 1) then you should obtain m(n-3) false positives in general (and 3m false negatives, i.e., infected not picked up).

  9. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Is there anything stopping...

    an enterprising and public-spirited company in the UK from grabbing a copy of, say, the Swiss app, and making it available in the UK (after translation). Presumably would need local servers to talk to when it's triggered.

    1. Adam 1

      Re: Is there anything stopping...

      Google and Apple won't publish an app using this new API unless you are a particular countries country's health authority. So now you are side loading APKs or jailbreaking to get it installed.

    2. anonanonanonanon

      Re: Is there anything stopping...

      It's open source https://github.com/DP-3T/

  10. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Why do they keep repeating that ?

    "people's whereabouts and movements, that could prove to be extremely helpful in tackling the virus"

    Let me get this straight : an app is going to track all contacts it gets near enough to, and if anyone gets the bug, all people the app has recorded will be contacted.

    So why the hell do they say that people's movements and location are "extremely helpful" ? You've got the list of people that were in contact, what more do you need ? Go see them, go test them, and the ones that are actually sick flag themselves and you repeat the process.

    Governments do not need to know where people have been since the only point of that information is finding out who they contacted, and the app does that for them.

    What am I missing ?

    1. SJA

      Re: Why do they keep repeating that ?

      Do you think you only come in contact with people you know?

    2. silent_count

      Re: Why do they keep repeating that ?

      You are absolutely correct.

      What you're missing is that governments have a massive hard-on for control. All of it. All of the time. The notion that you might not want to give them every conceivable bit of data is utterly foreign them. Whether they need it is not relevant.

      Note that I didn't mention a particular party, or left or right or upside-down. That's because it does not matter. They're all the same.

    3. Adam 1

      Re: Why do they keep repeating that ?

      I guess in theory if they know your contact with an infected person occurred at a specific restaurant where you sat on an adjacent table, they could contact trace on bookings to catch those without the app.

      Ok, that's a benefit, but on the other side of the equation is that government tracking citizens is really problematic in a democracy, and if you have less people trusting the app then it is much less useful. So that's the trade-off they aren't considering. By demanding more information, they will end up with less information in total.

      This is why the zero knowledge solutions from Apple Google are best in my opinion. Widely accessible, no privacy concerns and allows users to know to isolate and get tested.

      Then you have the next tier like Singapore and Australia version which to their credit attempt to limit their slurping but are not zero knowledge. They at least have user consent before uploads. Whilst I have some misgivings about how it demands a phone number and how the proximity judgement is performed server side, I don't think those downloading it are crazy or ill informed.

      But at the bottom you have the UK version in with these, as it doesn't even try to maintain privacy. Not sure why the author saw fit to group trace together/Covidsafe with the UK version.

    4. Jim Birch

      Re: Why do they keep repeating that ?

      From an epidemiological point of view it is extremely useful to know where the infection occurs. This can guide policy. If you haven't noticed, there's a trade-off between normal freedoms like the ability to go to work or the pub and not killing people.

      1. SloppyJesse

        Re: Why do they keep repeating that ?

        As others have said, having location and other details is necessary to trace/contact those that do not have the app, and it's useful to look at probable infection locations to improve behavioural guidance and policy.

        But... Neither needs to be mandatory for the automated contact notifications to work. In fact, making these additional features mandatory damages the basic tracing goal by reducing uptake.

  11. Chris the bean counter Bronze badge

    So EU told Google & Apple to enhance privacy

    Then the individual EU countries ask that they reverse the decision.

    Not sure who is right but it is pretty pathetic

  12. genghis_uk Bronze badge

    Overestimating the UK Population

    Several times the article mentions that there is concern about privacy or that people are worried about a central database. To be honest, there is a small bubble (mostly here) that are worried, but a vast majority of the public do not understand to problems and do not care.

    Listen to the interviews with Isle of Wight residents and all you get is 'I will use it if it keeps us safe' and 'if it lets us get back to normal it is good' - no mention of intrusive government databases!

    People are happy to sleepwalk into having their movements tracked so they can go back to something more normal.

    1. Screwed

      Re: Overestimating the UK Population

      I have seen all too many posts by people who would not voluntarily download and install an app. At all.

      If any attempt is made to force its use, many phones will be switched off, batteries allowed to go flat, even thrown away.

      The twenty years the UK claims the data would be held for doesn't reassure. (Is that twenty years after the last case? So the clock keeps getting reset each time there is a suspected case - which could be indefinitely.)

      Although 5G as a mechansim for transmission of CoV-SARS-2 seems to be less widely mentioned (phew!), as an arm of technology tracking each and every one of us, it appears to be rising up the list of concerns.

      That Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England appear to be going down different avenues is yet another issue. Of particular concern, I'd guess, to the many who live down the England/Wales border regions.

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