back to article Health Sec Hancock says UK will use Apple-Google API for virus contact-tracing app after all (even though Apple were right rotters)

The UK government last night confirmed it has aborted its ill-conceived coronavirus contact-tracing phone app – blaming protections and battery-saving restrictions in Apple’s iOS for its failure. Rather than use its own controversial home-brewed techniques for detecting nearby people via Bluetooth, Blighty will instead build …

  1. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Flame

    "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

    Only they're not, because they actually listened to Google's and Apple's press statements on why a contract tracing API was necessary. Italy and Germany have made their code open source.

    And it's not necessary for journalists to even understand technology, all they had to do was listen to Apple and Google's press statements on the matter and draw the logical conclusion that the British world beating app was beaten from the start. It ain't a matter of balancing opinons, it's fact vs. opinion.

    But I guess it's easier to just copy verbatim whatever the minister is twunting on about today. Like "every other country building their own app is also now hitting".

    Add this app to the list of yet another government IT failure, only this time the general public got to see the failure happen in real time, so this time there's a chance they might understand that a tech-adverse and fact-adverse ruling class being "held to account" by tech-adverse journalism incapable of checking facts actively works against the country's interests.

    Rant over.

    1. chuBb. Bronze badge

      Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

      World beating or beaten by the World...

      The problem with clinging to rose-tinted World views is that they probably thought it was as simple as boffins in sheds, "we had that clockwork radio bayliss guy (ripped off and died without adequet compensation for his invention), Dyson and sinclair, just need to harness some British pluck with plenty of spunk" said the guy leading that circle jerk of ineffective handling

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

        I suspect a lot of conversations inside this government can be described as a circle jerk of ineffective handling with plenty of references to British pluck and spunk.

        1. Klimt's Beast Would

          I've seen adverts on the Tube offering money for...

          plucking spunk. But that was a fertility clinic* which I guess would want you to go there first rather than try it in public, underground and moving at speed...

          * Though with Boris, he's already blurred the line between government and fertility clinic.

    2. Maximum Delfango Bronze badge
      Facepalm

      Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

      So true, Dan 55; in the unending race to the bottom, our mainstream media sites are now written by semi-illiterate cheap or zero-hour arts grads who copy what they read on Twitter or what press release was emailed to them - without any sort of fact checking or independent thought at all.

      It staggers me how utterly stupid many of today's journalists are, and how they still really think they can write with authority about anything.

      I used to read the Independent regularly, but stopped as it got worse and worse - but look how bad their 'tech' section is now. It's shocking: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

        "It staggers me how utterly stupid many of today's journalists are"

        The present doesn't have a monopoly. About 40 years ago the RUC carried out an excavation where a body was supposed to have been buried. It was next to the practice tee at a golf course and although there was no body it turned out to be a golf ball mine and several golf-playing police officers took away their haul in clear polythene bags. The press, kept at a considerable distance, reported samples being taken for analysis in white plastic bags.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

        I'm sure that elReg's journos are not like that!

        1. Maximum Delfango Bronze badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

          I certainly wasn't wishing to imply the Reg's journalists were anything less than excellent!

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

        The other issue is the BBC in particular hires not on merit but instead on what quota someone meets, hence you get articles like "why we should stop washing our clothes so often" and stating stating that "synthetic fabrics sheddings attract DDT and BPA clusters in the ocean" (stripped straight off an anti plastic blog written by someone heavily into "alternative healing" with the usual luddite conspiracy theories) - The author of this BBC piece a barely 21 and self described "brown, musilim, vegan" - why does your skin colour or dietary preferences matter, come to think of it, why does your religious following matter either?

        Then you move onto those the BBC would really like to put out to pasture but which the "grey" papers would scream blue murder over i.e. Rory Cellan Jones, someone so tech illiterate he makes my 85 year old tech phobic grandad look like an expert.....

        Look elsewhere though and there is still good quality tech journalism out there, heck even some of the BBC Worldwide stuff (never shown in the UK of course) is still pretty decent, the UK output though....seems to be aimed at those with a single digit IQ.......

        1. Maximum Delfango Bronze badge
          WTF?

          Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

          "...i.e. Rory Cellan Jones, someone so tech illiterate..."

          In answer to you, I present Andrew Griffin at the Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk/author/andrew-griffin

          ...a journalist who seemingly knows nothing about grammar, English, writing, science or technology.

      4. LucreLout Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

        media sites are now written by semi-illiterate cheap or zero-hour arts grads who copy what they read on Twitter or what press release was emailed to them

        Bit harsh on the Reg hacks..... I'm pretty sure one of them is a history grad.

      5. Fred Dibnah Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

        It's not just scribbling hacks either - some of the the talking ones are just as bad. I woke up to the Today programme for years, but stopped when the news reports became filled with government press releases and little else. (There had always been a bit of that as BBC news always follows the government line, no matter which party is in charge, but in the last 3-4 years it's become more obvious.)

        1. tfb Silver badge
          Alien

          Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

          BBC news always follows the government line

          This would explain why the current government are so keen on dismantling the BBC then, wouldn't it?

          Oh, no, it wouldn't explain that at all. Damn.

          1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

            Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

            Actually it does explain it.

            BBC costs money, even if the news output is wonderfully pro-Tory and unquestioning. *

            Get rid of BBC and it would be replaced by 'friends' of the Tories like Murdoch, who would be equally (or more) supportive of the Tories, but who could pocket the equivalent of the licence fee, before trebling it.

            * Yes, I know she does ask 'questions' but political correspondents shouldn't be asking about wee Wilfred Bramble. They should be gutting every Tory MP. 60,000 dead so far, for Christ's sake!

            1. tfb Silver badge
              Boffin

              Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

              BBC costs money, even if the news output is wonderfully pro-Tory and unquestioning

              And yet we have, for instance a lot of things like this, from which I read

              The BBC faced a bias row last night after Boris Johnson was confronted by an hostile audience in a Question Time election special. In his half an hour session, the Prime Minister faced unremittingly hostile questions and struggled to get answers in as he was repeatedly heckled.

              (Note this was just an early hit from a search for 'boris johnson bbc bias': there are many others: I find those publications too nauseating to look at many, frankly, so I just picked that hit.)

              And I'm completely sure that there are entire populations of people who continuously fulminate about the BBC's attitude to brexit, and not all, perhaps not even most, of them are Russian trolls.

              So we're in a situation where people on the left (I am mostly one of these people) fulminate against the BBC for right-wing bias, while people on the right fulminate against the BBC for left-wing bias (and actively try to destroy it).

              Well, there's an obvious conclusion from that: perhaps it is in fact doing a relatively good job (only relatively: I'm with the original commenter in that it does seem to repeat the government line slightly unthinkingly sometimes) of being unbiased.

            2. idiottaxpayerhere previously ishtiaq/theghostdeejay

              Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

              Downvoted for not checking your facts

              As of Sunday 21/06/2020 at just turned 12 noon (GMT) there are 42,589 (not 60,000) who have died testing positive for the virus.

              Cheers… Ishy

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

                @Ishy - Downvoted on suspicion of being willfully ignorant.

                Due to the abysmally slow ramp up of testing in the UK, many of those who died were never tested, so were never officially acknowledged as related to Covid19. Because of this the 42k number is not at all reliable at estimating the real impact of the virus.

                60k (IIRC it's actually nearer 65K now) is the figure you get from looking at excess deaths - i.e. how many more people are dying than is average for the time of year (based on death rates from past years). Its obviously not perfect, but is mostly acknowledged as being more reliable than the officially acknowledged covid-confirmed statistic for estimating the true death toll of the disease.

        2. Robert D Bank

          Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

          when it's degraded to the point where 'Rylan' is employed...time to switch off permanently, for my health

      6. Barrie Shepherd

        Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

        ".............. our mainstream media sites are now written by semi-illiterate cheap or zero-hour arts grads who copy what they read on Twitter or what press release was emailed to them - without any sort of fact checking or independent thought at all."

        As is Government policy it would seem.

    3. Tim Bergel

      Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

      Every other country except France, apparently, where they have produced a home-brew app that works and was available in good time, albeit with privacy concerns because of the centralised database.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

        Given how much the French sleep around, they withdrew the tracking app on the grounds that every French person has been in deep and moist contact with pretty much every other French person.

        See also: Italy.

      2. John Jennings Bronze badge

        Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

        The french wouldnt let on if their app didnt work....

    4. Steve Channell
      Unhappy

      iTunes more important than pandemic?

      It is not unreasonable to believe that a G7 country might be able to force a tech company to treat a Covid app like a music app and run in the background. The fact Apple was bold enough to refuse is telling - setting itself up as a supranational organisation is is a precident that will not go unanswered - expect to see their root certificates buster within a year.

      The "by winter" announcement probably Means they're going to go the Telco route (like South Korea and Norway) and use mast triangulation for proximity (Bluetooth works through walls, so not foolproof).

      Another option is to use fitness trackers, but that's a longer-term option but will be a waste of money if a vaccine works - expect to see talk of revived MS Band tracker popping up.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: iTunes more important than pandemic?

        The "by winter" announcement means it's going to be quietly dropped after Hancock has spunked another hundreds million on a Tory donor.

        1. Stork Silver badge

          Re: iTunes more important than pandemic?

          Was it specified which winter? I had a colleague who spent three years on a project that should go live by August.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: iTunes more important than pandemic?

            The problem with August, is that there are quite a few of them!

          2. Robert D Bank

            Re: iTunes more important than pandemic?

            Jeez, we must know the same 'august colleague!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: iTunes more important than pandemic?

          I once joined an NHS project in year 4 of a 3 year development. I took over PM'ing the project 2 years later...... And finished it in a year.

    5. Nifty Silver badge

      Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

      Taiwan's minister without portfolio has been guiding that countrys IT policy especially regarding e-government, openness, trust in government and lately its Covid tracing app and use of social media to nudge public behaviour to control the pandemic. Everything in short that the UK lacks. An ex hacker and activist with a reputed IQ of 180.

      How much longer before Asia and the US come bearing beads in exchange for our treasure? Oh wait, they already have: Arm Holdings, Imagination Technologies, Logica, CSR, Autonomy, Misys...

    6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

      "all they had to do was listen to Apple and Google's press statements"

      Whilst I agree with you, it's bit strange here that particular phrase spoken in all seriousness :-)

      Here at El Reg, we NEVER take PR statements at face value. Is this the "New Normal™"?

    7. Robert D Bank

      Re: "we discovered a technical barrier that every other country [...] is also now hitting."

      what was it I heard....£11m spent on this crock? So someone will be smiling.

  2. Mellipop

    good old compromise, the stuff of bad governance

    it's like the parson's egg; "parts of it were excellent".

    distance measurement by Bluetooth is an approximation. if the world beating algorithm is good, then it should be shared with the world.

    beating covid-19 is not a competition.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: beating covid-19 is not a competition.

      Certainly shouldn't be, but of course in reality it is.

      Many countries want the presumed kudos of being the first to beat it, to show they are better than everyone else. Be that by developing a vaccine, or by having the best contact tracing.

      UK perhaps more than most, because Boris will see it proves the UK can survive and lead in a post-Brexit world. Why work together when we're so "world beating". </sarc>

      1. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: beating covid-19 is not a competition.

        Many countries want the presumed kudos of being the first to beat it, to show they are better than everyone else.

        Not so much. They mostly want to do it out of economic necessity because whoever gets the first working vaccine gets to inoculate first and that means they get to be the first to resume full economic activity. Being in the last half of the world to vaccinate will have profound economic disadvantages.

        1. 96percentchimp

          Re: beating covid-19 is not a competition.

          None of the G7 nations will be in the last half, nor any European state. The economic hammer will fall, as it always does, on the poorest nations, further driving the inequality gradient between global north and south.

  3. steviebuk Silver badge

    And I bet those

    "54,000 people downloaded the software" can request their data now be removed.

    The fact Matt couldn't even get his own, personal app right, shows we need not listen to any of his advice regarding IT.

    https://www.theregister.com/AMP/2018/02/01/matt_hancock_app_privacy_bug_ed_vaizey/

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

    Is Hancock seriously suggesting that Google couldn't come up with Bluetooth LE distance measuring code without input from "NHSX" developers?? Face saving tripe.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

      NHSX "developers". FTFY.

      1. boltar Silver badge

        Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

        To be fair, the code looks reasonably well written though I'm not a Swift expert. I've seen a lot worse.

    2. JTUK

      Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

      Can't remember where I saw it, but there was a long list of reasons posted by the Gov as to why this wasn't possible. e.g. Walls, open spaces, train carriages, metal. Causing contacts to seem either further away or closer, with obvious disastrous effects either way.

      It's no real surprise that Google/Apple have a simpler and more limited set of distance values and don't try to estimate it, because you can't.

      I can however see why they've got themselves tied up in this knot. A de-centralised anonymous approach means it's harder to issue a strict instruction to self-isolate and test. It's not a tool for contact tracing, it can only really serve a contact awareness role.

      It'll only take a handful of people receiving notifications to self isolate who know for sure they haven't been within 2 meters for the word to get out that the app gets it wrong, then no one will take it seriously at all.

      The only tech I can see useful is an app that tracks movement and attempts to gauge contacts as an alternative for full isolation for traced contacts and similar tech may have a role as a quarantine alternative.

      1. iron Silver badge

        Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

        You are Matt Hancock and I claim my £10.

      2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

        Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

        I'd be interested to see how the government code works out distance. I don't really understand radio any more than your average consumer. I'm able to listen to radio, use bluetooth and wifi, but have little understanding of the underlying physics. However, I know from my own experience, radio in general is badly affected by obstacles. How does the government's code account for this? I can understand you can get a fair estimate of distance if you know the signal strength, and and how quickly it decays, but what if the signal strength is already degraded due to a wall or some obstruction between the sender and reciever? I don't know what is actually transmitted, so it's possible they are already including the initial strength in the signal.

        Take, for example, two people standing two meters apart, but with nothing separating them. One person's phone would ping the other's fine, and if he or she were a Covid sufferer and had registered as such with the app, would trigger the other person to get a notification. Now, imagine there was a wall between them. The material the wall is made from may reduce the signal strength. This is likely to increase the estimation of distance, so the other person appears to be 4m away from the carrier. They wouldn't get a notification, but the virus could have travelled around the wall (maybe through a door, or over it).

        Be interesting to see what the government have done to circumvent the unreliability of this method of distance estimation, but I don't hold out much hope we'll see anything. They did open source the project, but the github repo is only showing minor updates (mostly readmes) since the project was intially uploaded to github last month, so they aren't being open about whatever changes are being made.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

          Not sure the wall thing matters that much. If there's a wall the signal may be weaker - so I appear to stand further away - but then there's a wall - so though the virus might sneak through it's less likely to - so my 'effective' distance from the other person is greater.

          This is all a game of probabilities after all. The app is only really going to be useful outside family/friend groups. In those groups you are going to have personal knowledge of potential infections. In an office/factory/one to one home visit/medical etc situation good paper record keeping is probably as effective. So you are basically talking shops you spend a lot of time in (barber, tatoo parlour, comic store in the Big Bang Theory) and bus/train journeys.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

            "This is all a game of probabilities after all."

            Amen to that.

            Social distancing, 1 vs 2 metres, indoors vs outdoors, R values, opening this sort of establishment before that; it's all a matter of estimating and managing probabilities. I think SAGE have probably managed to get this though to the politicians. Whether either of them gets it through to the general media is a little more doubtful. Whether the media would make an attempt to get it through to the public - no chance.

            1. Synonymous Howard

              Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

              I view COVID-19 just like ionising radiation ... keep as far as away from it as possible, for as long as possible. Oh and wash those hands.

              1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

                "wash those hands"

                I'm not sure that works with ionising radiation.

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

              Even now, we have problems with official statements and interviews, press statements, media reports etc all taking about "social distancing" and keeping apart 2m but almost always shortening the statement such that the time factor is almost always excluded. Look at the pavement widening for example. Who hasn't seen examples of councils getting it wrong by closing roads or lanes to make pavements 2 or more metres wide when you are only ever likely to be walking past someone or queuing as people walk past you.

              It's worse even than the shortening of Carbon Dioxide to "carbon" when talking about greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon Dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Carbon is very useful as a scrubber for cleaning other sorts of pollutant emissions. Using a short-hand can not only be confusing, it can reverse the meaning of a statement.

        2. gnasher729 Silver badge

          Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

          Obstacles don't just influence the distance measurements, they also influence how infectious the virus is. Remember we don't _really_ care about the distance, but about the chances of infection. So we are lucky, inaccuracies in the distance measurement actually make the measurement of the chance of infection more precise.

        3. John Jennings Bronze badge

          Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

          AFAIK this is not how radio/bluetooth works, but it might be possible to measure distance as follows:

          Send a bluetooth signal - if its direct LOS then it should get a hit within, say 30m. THere will be a signal strength.

          Handshare with remote devices

          Trigger that device to turn on its wifi and send a ping on wifi - or have it do do a peer ping on its main radio ...

          Send back bluetooth signal strength.

          listen for response strength on wifi or GPRS

          With a different frequency of radio, with a different absorbtion profile - it may be possible to identify what is between the two targets, and their range.

          if you also get a ping, and a signal strength, I think it would be possible to get a differential on the signal strengths. It would be bloody hard maths, I think.... I dont think you can get a peer GPRS signal sent in software - though I could be wrong.

          If you dont get a Bluetooth ping then its academic - its greater than 2 m range.

          Just a thought.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

        Whether Google/Apple have decided to only present a simplified proximity API, it is a ludicrous idea that they don’t know how to improve it without help from a small group of developers working for a private company in the UK under contract to the NHS. Does anyone think Gapple are saying “Oh thank you muchly, Mr Hancock, we are not worthy of your benevolence” when offered this magical code?

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

          That's a silly statement. Without knowing exactly who is involved, you can't possibly know whether the UK dev team or Google happen to have some academic genious who's come up with a brilliant new mathematical model to do the calculations.

          I'm not saying either side HAS done this, but assuming that Google must be able to do better is not only disingenuous but is disparaging of all other research groups. After all, we already have evidence that Google buy up companies who have good ideas (and patented IP) that Google didn't invent. They'd also invented stuff too of course.

      4. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

        If someone is behind a wall, they're not really a contact, are they?

    3. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

      You forget to mention Apple. Whether you like them or not, they are a trillion dollar company and can afford a *lot* of very good developers, so no doubt have a lot.

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

        "You forget to mention Apple. Whether you like them or not, they are a trillion dollar company and can afford a *lot* of very good developers, so no doubt have a lot."

        I'm told the lead developer was the guy who is responsible for "Find my phone" - the app that tells you where your lost or stolen phone is. Even if it's turned off. Even turned off, it uses low power bluetooth to tell other iPhones "help, I'm lost, please tell Apple where I am".

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

          Where did you read all that? how does the phone know if its lost? is there such a thing as low power bluetooth? does that mean my phone is constantly on the lookout for lost iphones?

          Thats not my experience of it , at best it seems to say - well last time the phone bothered checking in it was *here* , and at worst "I forgot"

          1. anothercynic Silver badge

            Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

            Yes, Low Power Bluetooth exists. It's called BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). But, once a phone is turned off, it. is. turned. off. No Bluetooth traffic, nada. OFF.

            That said, 'Find my iPhone' is a pretty smart thing... But it relies on the device actually being reachable. An iPad with WiFi only that's out of reach of WiFi networks is hard to find.

          2. gnasher729 Silver badge

            Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

            Yes, indeed. If your iPhone comes close to a lost and turned off iPhone, it will send an anonymous message to Apple with the location and a code identifying the iPhone, so Apple can report to the user where the phone is.

            How does your phone know it is lost? You go on Apple's website, log in with your AppleID, get a list of your devices and tell them which one is lost.

        2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

          That makes no sense. A phone is not going to know it is lost unless someone sends a message to it telling it. And if you can notify the phone that it is lost, then the phone can reply immediately with its last known position. No need at all for bluetooth distress calls.

          1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

            The information about Find My Phone might be unofficial because it covers the scenario of theft and you don't want to help thieves to circumvent it. But it's just as likely to be your briefcase or handbag or coat that is lost or stolen and it may be moving. (Also if you left it in a taxi or something.) Not where you left it.

            Then again, wasn't there a house somewhere in the U.S. that for some reason was reported as the location of 50% of all lost cellphones and got extremely frequent visits from police...? Something like that?

            1. gnasher729 Silver badge

              Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

              What you are referring to has to do with IP addresses. The police can lookup a location for your IP address. If a US location isn't known, the API responsible will return "Location is exactly in the centre of the USA, with an error of 3,000 miles". That's the case for about 10% of all the IP addresses. And there is a farm about 200 metres away, and police usually doesn't notice the "3000 miles error".

              Find My Phone is hundred percent official. So if the thief knows to turn the iPhone off, if one of their mates has an iPhone themselves, that is enough. Location is reported using the GPS of the bystander's phone. And low power bluetooth works for a long time.

    4. /\/\j17

      Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

      "we’ll share our algorithm and the work that we’ve done on distance calculation and combine that with their work to deliver a new solution."

      By which he mans "...and end up using the Google/Apple one but changing a few parameters from "X" to "X*0.00000000001".

      1. Hawkeye Pierce

        Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

        I do hope you meant X PLUS 0.00000000001 because what you've stated makes a pretty huge change to the parameter. That is likely to completely screw up the app and make it useless... oh hang on, nope, as you were...

      2. PM from Hell

        Re: NHSX devs apparently superior to Google devs

        Or more likely "...and end up using the Google/Apple one but changing a few parameters from "X" to "X*1.00000000001"

  5. BenM 29

    with respect to the UK app

    Lord Bethell answered that “the scale of it is enormous – no other country is doing it on such a great scale” but it was “already showing some features which frankly are totally world-beating”.

    This government sound more like POTUS 45 every day. I am sure they are using 1984/animal farm as instructions.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: with respect to the UK app

      For someone with absolutely no IT-related qualifications whatsoever and who got the job without even the minor trouble of being elected, one suspects that two tin cans and a piece of string would seem totally world-beating.

      1. Andy Non Silver badge

        Re: with respect to the UK app

        Is the string the regulation two metres?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: with respect to the UK app

          Of course not!!! We don't need those continental measurements. 2 yards, unless you llive within 10 kilometres of the coast, in which case you can use a fathom.

          1. batfink Silver badge

            Re: with respect to the UK app

            10 kilometres? What are you thinking man? 49 furlongs 7 chains, surely...

            1. KillStuffMount

              Re: with respect to the UK app

              The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it!

              1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

                Re: with respect to the UK app

                If that's a hogshead of petrol you really, really need a new car, as you are destroying the global climate single-handedly.

                40 rods is about a furrowlong

                a hogshead is 66 gallons!

                If it's a hogshead of beer, then you just need a liver transplant.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: with respect to the UK app

              I apologise profusely and will beat myself with an imperial stick.

      2. Smooth Newt Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: with respect to the UK app

        one suspects that two tin cans and a piece of string would seem totally world-beating.

        If it is British then it will be deemed to be world-beating. Even if the string is missing.

        They don't care - this is a public relations crisis for them, not a public health one.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: with respect to the UK app

          String is so old fashioned, The UK can phone uses TwineFi.

      3. FlashBangWallop

        Re: with respect to the UK app

        But Boris does have some IT qualifications - he had some extra curricular IT lessons from Jennifer Arcuri........

        1. gnasher729 Silver badge

          Re: with respect to the UK app

          They should have given the contract to Jennifer Arcuri. She would have failed as well, but she only charges £100,000.

      4. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: with respect to the UK app

        "For someone with absolutely no IT-related qualifications whatsoever"

        That is why he has surrounded himself with "Special Advisors". And in exceptional circumstances, (in the past?), "Extra Special Advisors" to give advice on things like IT, Pole DancingFitness...

      5. JohnMurray

        Re: with respect to the UK app

        Two caviar tin-cans, and silk..not string...uber-class!

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: with respect to the UK app

      He seems to be unaware that Germany is a country with 17 millon more people. Italy admittedly is a country with 6 million less but then again they have a working app too, they rolled it out at the end of last month.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: with respect to the UK app

      This government sound more like POTUS 45 every day. I am sure they are using 1984/animal farm as instructions

      They can't be using 1984 as a guide, the authorites in that tale are vaguely competent.

      Animal Farm is a definite possibility though, with all the bull and horseshit involved...

      1. Wibble

        Re: with respect to the UK app

        More like Only Fools and Horses

        Del Boy Johnson, Hancock as Trigger and Cummings as Uncle Albert

        1. Locky

          Re: with respect to the UK app

          But they are already all millionaires....

    4. CountCadaver Bronze badge

      Re: with respect to the UK app

      Correct "ALL UK politicians already sound like POTUS45" none of them have any modesty, they all sound like they are on the apprentice giving "2500% at all times"

      1. Snowy
        Joke

        Re: with respect to the UK app

        POTUS45 or P45 for short :)

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: with respect to the UK app

          For left-pondians, a P45 is the official tax document you get from your now ex-employer after being fired/made redundant/resigned or otherwise permanently left your place of employment.

    5. hoola Bronze badge

      Re: with respect to the UK app

      A lot of flak for the Government and NHSX here.

      How many times have we all been in meetings, product road maps, etc where all sorts of stuff is pushed by techies as being the next great feature?

      IT techies and developers in particular are their own worst enemy in claiming something is possible, even showing some sort of POC but then failing to deliver.

      The Government may be at fault but somebody in the chain said it was possible.

      Also, just what is wrong with starting something and then taking the decision that the approach is wrong? At the moment I don't think there is a great deal of evidence that an App is going to be particularly effective. Singapore keeps being used as an example where an App worked. That is not the case as it does not have sufficient take up to be useful so they are looking at wrist bands.

      Technology has a place however all to often it is seen as a solution to something where it is inappropriate. To work an App has to have a high take-up (I believe in excess of 60%) and be accurate. There is nothing technology can do about garbage-in-garbage-out. If that 60% are the least susceptible in the population then in reality the take needs to be much higher.

  6. Charles Smith

    Agile

    Ministers are agile in changing horses, but is the NHS App project yet another Agile failure? "Yes we can do this, but it might need a few fast iterations..."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Agile

      I think this is more likely to be a failure of an arrogant Designer / Dho came up with the "cracking idea" of using unpublished and unsupported API's and a sloppy work around rather than using the published API's supported by Apple. This was probably compounded by an even more arrogant "Senior Manager" who still believes that Britain is a superpower who would be able to demand that Apple change their rules on API usage. I've come across this many times in the past including being told to get IBM to change their global terms and conditions to suit a English County Council. as you can imagine that went well - not

      AC as I'm still contracting in the government sphere.

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: Agile

        "I think this is more likely to be a failure of an arrogant Designer..."

        No, its the fact that 250 million pound had to be moved from the tax payers' pockets to Cummings' mates brother. I can see what would happen if my company would have got the deal: Boss says "They want us to build a contact tracking app doing X, Y and Z. Can you do this? " My answer: "No way, but how much are they paying? £250,000,000? For that money we can have a good go, my manager will write some lovely status reports every week, and six months later we concede total failure and keep £100,000,000. We all get rich, let's do it".

  7. Tessier-Ashpool

    I might even install it

    ...now that NHSX / GCHQ won’t be using it to slurp my physical contact history. Result.

    1. JohnMurray

      Re: I might even install it

      ....If I was you, I'd wait to see what "they" finally come-up with......

    2. Stephen 1
      Black Helicopters

      Re: I might even install it

      I had assumed it was all transferred directly to Dominic Cummings election manipulation database.

  8. Buttons
    Facepalm

    World beating . . .

    . . . . in England

    1. BenM 29

      Re: World beating . . .

      like world series baseball.... though, to be fair, the world series does include Japan.

      1. genghis_uk Bronze badge

        Re: World beating . . .

        I thought the 'World Series' only includes American teams and one Canadian team (Toronto Blue Jays). They do have a lot of international players in the various leagues though and Japan has had its own series.

        There is also the World Baseball Classic https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Baseball_Classic which includes other countries...

        (Not at all a baseball fan but I've been 'educated' by a lot of American friends after taking the p*ss and calling it rounders)

        1. WolfFan Silver badge

          Re: World beating . . .

          MLB has players from Japan, South Korea, Cuba, the Dominican Republic (not, repeat NOT Dominica), Panama, Columbia, Mexico, Venezuela, and more, probably including the rest of Central America and northern South America. And the Philippines, I think. In other words, places where Yanqui Imperialism has roamed over the last century plus. There are enough Dominicans in MLB and the DR is so poor that the money that players like David ‘Big Papi’ Ortiz repatriate back to the DR is a significant fraction of the DR’s GNP.

      2. WolfFan Silver badge

        Re: World beating . . .

        Nope. Japanese players, yes, teams from Japan, no. 29 American teams and one Canadian team; it used to be two Canadian teams, but one of them is now in Washington DC.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: World beating . . .

        ISTR it was named after a sponsoring newspaper that had World in it's title.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: World beating . . .

          Indeed, like the Benson and Hedges Cup, or the Costa Prize for Fiction

  9. cb7 Bronze badge

    Why don't Google and Apple co-operate and develop the app and roll it out as a critical public safety update across the globe?

    They could have done this months ago.

    It would save countries across he whole world duplicating effort and going down rabbit holes. And think of the number of lives it could have saved / would save.

    And the app would also work once international travel resumes.

    They routinely push out updates that help them maintain their not so insignificant income streams.

    They have the technological prowess to make it happen.

    About time they did something that gives something meaningful back to the public.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why not?

      Because the egotistical politicians that run those countries can't accept that they can't do it themselves / better (and don't forget, their friends need contracts to help them through the current economic mess).

      There are templates / frameworks that could possibly be used (and also some open source implementations) to get something working and save their images at the same time.

      Or am I being overly cynical?

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Or am I being overly cynical?

        Nope. Not at all. Personally, I think you've nailed it.

      2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Why not?

        The Politicain I heard on radio 4 , explaining why they were "shelving" it didnt seem to even understand what it was for.

        "We found from the trial in the isle of wight that people wouldnt listen to an alert on their phone , so we shelved the app and now we have the phone call system"

        Great! now you've got a friendly human voice and no actual contact tracing data save for the vague guesses of some of the infected people.

    2. iron Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Because then you and I would be shouting about Google and Apple slurping people's health data. By banning all COVID19 apps not written by a sanctioned government department they side step awkward issues like that and having to police a deluge of fake health apps. This is a good thing.

    3. dajames Silver badge

      ... the app would also work once international travel resumes.

      Methinks this is a very important point, and I've not seen it mentioned anywhere else.

      International travel has not stopped completely, international trade continues to take place, people resident in different countries are still encountering one another in various ways and there is some risk of cross-infection at most of them.

      A contact tracer that relies on the database of interactions within one single country can never provide a complete picture, as infections may occur off-stage, as it were. The decentralized solution wins here by a mile.

    4. gnasher729 Silver badge

      There is zero income stream from this for Apple and Google.

      1. Paul Shirley

        ...but a loss of income stream from dead ex-customers if they don't do it.

        1. JohnMurray

          Unless there is an after-life!

    5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "Why don't Google and Apple co-operate and develop the app and roll it out as a critical public safety update across the globe?"

      ISTR more or less the same question being asked and answered in a different thread. Google and Apple don't want the task and/or responsibility for who should be declared infected. It's up to the local health authority to have control of that.

    6. gnasher729 Silver badge

      What Apple and Google developed is an API that can track which phones were close to yours, and if asked to, tell all these phones they were close to yours. Has nothing to do with health whatsoever. So they don't have to follow any legislation connected to health, and there is a lot of that.

      An app would be a _health_ app. And then regulations come in, and you have to follow the laws of each country, and that's an absolute pain. Better leave it to the UK NHS, for example, they ought to know about UK regulations, and if the UK really wants the app, they could even bend some rules, which Apple and Google can't.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    I wonder who did the architecture for this balls up.

    It's always the same.

    "We must collect this data and store it centrally (for at least 20 years)"

    Why?

    "Because we must"

    Why?

    "Because it's this thing we do and the universe will fall into chaos if we don't know everything about everybody all the time forever"

    It's not a policy. It's a personality disorder.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I wonder who did the architecture for this balls up.

      I assume you endorse the Home Office's decision to destroy all the "windrush" landing records then?

      1. cipnt

        Re: I wonder who did the architecture for this balls up.

        Those are "official records", completely different story

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I wonder who did the architecture for this balls up.

      we want to know a little bit about you for our files..

  11. Tony W

    Privacy?

    Prof Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence, University of Bristol, said (referring to the Apple/Google option):

    "With information collected from other sources (including the fact that your phone receives the Bluetooth mac address and name of the other persons device when you make ‘the contact’) it may still be possible to put together a list of all of the contacts that a particular device has seen, and re-identify some of them. Further, as we point out in our recent papers the registration details you provide when downloading, installing and registering the app, along with metadata collected by your ISP and the central (even though we are calling it decentralised) server means that those operating the server may still be able to identify you, your contacts, where you have been (location) and when."

    Source: Science Media Centre, the original text includes the references.

    I don't know if this is right. Anyone else?

    1. Wibble

      Re: Privacy?

      Isn't an Apple application required to meet certain standards? A condition of using the API is not slurping data -- and the application being deleted when the pandemic's over.

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: Privacy?

        "Application being deleted when the pandemic's over" - it is never over. Like the new infections in New Zealand. It's just that this app allows us to lead normal lives while stomping out even the smallest new outbreak.

        1. hoola Bronze badge

          Re: Privacy?

          That is the fundamental problem , the App does not allow you to lead normal lives. All it does is provide some sort of contact awareness that enables people to decide if they should get tested and isolate based on an alert.

          If someone has the App and is infectious then the App knows about them. One would assume that if the person is responsible they they would not be out if they have tested positive anyway. Those who are not responsible will most likely not use the app.

    2. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Privacy?

      If she changes from "it may be possible" to "this is how one could do it", then we'll look at it. Right now the information stored is a random 16 byte number that is changed every 15 minutes. Only the phone creating the number knows it. Of course if you hire a secret agent who follows me everywhere from 2m distance, that secret agent could find the identities of all my contacts. But that secret agent could do it if I don't use the contact tracking app at all; just take photos of everyone close to me.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can they still nab the data?

    Is it still possible for the app maker to hijack and centralise the API data anyway? Having a "hybrid" approach suggests so.

    Even if the UI cannot officially access the API backend, NHSX's willingness to use hacks to get what they want doesn't inspire confidence.

    1. Dave Pickles

      Re: Can they still nab the data?

      The Ts and Cs for use of the API are as draconian as you would expect from Apple and Google's legal departments, and one would hope that any infraction would result in their usual response.

    2. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Can they still nab the data?

      I don't know about Google, but for iOS apps you need "Entitlements" to do things, and without these "Entitlements" you can't do them. For example, you need an Entitlement to take photos. Without this entitlement you can't. And if you can't give Apple a good reason why you need to take photos, you don't get that entitlement.

      You need an entitlement to use the tracking API (and Apple says they will give this entitlement to one state health organisation per country, plus one per US state apparently). But if you have that entitlement, you can't have entitlements like location data and some other entitlements, so you can't spy on users. And I think you don't get any actual data from the API other than the information that you were close to an infected device. The app developer cannot access the codes of nearby phones.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    app did exactly what it was supposed to do

    which was shovel a load of money via nhsx to yet another one of either hancocks or cummings mates.

    1. cipnt

      Re: app did exactly what it was supposed to do

      Agree (and it was so obvious as well), but that can be done while also delivering a solution

  14. John H Woods Silver badge

    distance and signal strength

    Genuine Q

    Why are we using signal strength to estimate the differences between devices? Do most phones not have the clock resolution to do it with timing?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: distance and signal strength

      Assuming that you had two phones that 'recognise' via Bluetooth they are close - you could have them send a timed pulse and measure the delay - but they would need to agree on 'true' time - probably through each getting a GPS based clock signal. so now your app needs GPS to be on. You are trying to resolve nano second differences in timing .

      Probably much more sensible to bluetooth handshake and then send a small audio signal. A sub-audible click train with a bluetooth handshake to conform the moment that it's sent and received. That would be a much easier challenge - ought to deal with the wall problem, and actually a slight audible signal that you were 'too close' to someone who wasn't in your bubble might be considered quite a good side benefit - if the volume/tone had to be audible.

    2. Dave Pickles

      Re: distance and signal strength

      Bluetooth radar? At the mandated 2m distance the round-trip delay would be about 7ns.

      Better would be to use sonar. Send an ultrasonic 'chirp' through the phone speaker and pick up the reply via the microphone. The round-trip time of ~12ms is rather more manageable, though having the microphone live all the time would not be easy to sell...

      1. smudge

        Re: distance and signal strength

        Would sonic methods work in noisy environments such as London Underground platforms and trains? Which is precisely the type of environment - lots of close contact with strangers - where the app would be most useful.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: distance and signal strength

          I think a hybrid bluetooth + sonic would be a best of breed option. And in noisy environments maybe it won't work though picking up known audio signals isn't that hard. But can phones bypass 'mute' or use their speakers when they have headphones plugged in? If no that would defeat the tube case!

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: distance and signal strength

        "At the mandated 2m distance the round-trip delay would be about 7ns."

        Surely that's the one-way trip. At any events the radio transmission time is going to be swamped by the variability in the time taken by the electronics to respond. It'd probably end up being 2 +/- 100 metres

        1. smudge

          Re: distance and signal strength

          At any events the radio transmission time is going to be swamped by the variability in the time taken by the electronics to respond. It'd probably end up being 2 +/- 100 metres

          I have no experience in this field, but I assumed that you would fire off lots of signals and "average out" the response times to estimate the distance.

          Where "average out" is a layman's term for "perform some pretty sophisticated and complex analysis".

          1. Lyndon Hills 1

            Re: distance and signal strength

            Some interesting thoughts, but let's get real. This discussion is about the problem of estimating range between two phones. In a tube train, the phone might be within 2 metres of up to 20 others. If the phone is going to be performing this 'complex analysis' measuring response times and sending audio 'pings' to figure out the distance between itself and these multiple other phones, it won't actually be much use for anything else...

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: distance and signal strength

            The point is that the transit time at close quarters is a few nanoseconds. It's going to take a lot longer than that for the phone at the other end to respond and return the signal. It's not like radar which relies on a passive echo. What you end up measuring is twice the transit time plus the time taken for the remote phone to decide to reply plus some time lost in the local phone and not forgetting the length of the signals themselves. In relation to the rest the first element will be negligible.

            Measuring stuff is hard, particularly when you want to do it properly.

      3. Smooth Newt Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: distance and signal strength

        Better would be to use sonar. Send an ultrasonic 'chirp' through the phone speaker and pick up the reply via the microphone. The round-trip time of ~12ms is rather more manageable, though having the microphone live all the time would not be easy to sell...

        Better to use a one-way ultrasonic pulse. Phone sends an ultrasonic burp and a Bluetooth broadcast at the same time. Bluetooth signal arrives at listening phone more or less instantly, and distance is proportional to delay before corresponding acoustic signal arrives.

        The microphone doesn't have to go active until Bluetooth broadcast received, and even then only has to be live for a hundredth of a second. If the burp takes more than a hundredth of a second to arrive, then the phone is more than 3 metres away and we don't care about it.

      4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: distance and signal strength

        "Send an ultrasonic 'chirp' through the phone speaker"

        Pockets, handbags?

    3. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: distance and signal strength

      For distance estimate by timing signals you'd need to be able to measure the time with 10 nanoseconds precision. And you'd need a direct signal that isn't reflecting anywhere. Very difficult.

    4. bazza Silver badge

      Re: distance and signal strength

      Radio waves in free space travel at the speed of light - approx 1 foot per nanosecond. To be able to tell the difference between a proximity of, say, 3m and 2m, the system would need a timing resolution of 3ns or better.

      That's very difficult to achieve, especially via cheap sub-dollar Bluetooth chipsets that were never intended for the purpose. Even doing it with bespoke kit would be difficult.

      The whole thing is in danger of becoming pointless anyway, if not downright dangerous. There's quite a large number of fairly respectable scientist voices pointing out that the 2m separation is totally unfounded in the first place. If they're right, then this kind of contact tracing app is potentially going to be worse than useless.

      It looks pretty much like it's droplets that are the transmission method. If so, then the distance that matters is going to depend on local air currents, evaporation rates, ambient UV, and whether or not you're upwind or downwind from a carrier. So it's probably best to be at the front of the first carriage on the tube train.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: distance and signal strength

        Unless the tube driver catches it - then you want to be at the back....

      2. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: distance and signal strength

        "Radio waves in free space travel at the speed of light - approx 1 foot per nanosecond. To be able to tell the difference between a proximity of, say, 3m and 2m, the system would need a timing resolution of 3ns or better."

        Yes - but I have a relatively inexpensive laser measure (5% the price of a new phone) that matches my tape measure to 1mm over anything from 1cm to 80m. Presumably that's done by timing? I can't see how it could be done by divergence measurement or anything else. Don't modern chips have highly accurate hardware timing? Don't you need a clock that good for meaningful GPS, anyway?

        Again, genuine Qs, just interested.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: distance and signal strength

          Presumably that's done by timing?"

          Passive reflection.

          The bluetooth system would reply on an active response. That active response takes processing. If the H/W isn't designed for that then it'll be handled in S/W. In S/W it might depend on either the scheduler giving it some time or on an interrupt and there not being a higher priority interrupt being handled when BT wants attention. At best if the trun-round time were consistent for a given make of phone phones would need to carry a database of the timings of other models of phone to work out how much to compensate.

  15. Danny 2 Silver badge

    As we explained weeks and weeks ago

    "You have to pull that door open. It is labelled 'Pull'."

    "No, government policy based on the best scientific advice is to push."

  16. DavCrav Silver badge

    It's completely clear that the A/G model for the app is useless. Since it cannot work with the government's (also usless) contact tracing system, it is not a cherry on a cake, but an entirely separate cake. So it needs to installed widely, and obeyed, to have any impact. And it won't be, so it's pointless.

    Save the money and spend it on school dinners or private tutors, or whatever the government decides it wants to spend on to curry favour with people today.

  17. PTW

    I've said it before here on el Reg

    Contact tracing is a lag measure, so effectively useless. i.e. x was on the tube yesterday and was close to someone, y, that tested +ve for C19 today, how many people has person x come in contact with? What if y tests +ve 3 days later? Then x has also been in contact with what, 100, 1000, people? Do they all go into isolation?

    By it's very definition it brings you back to complete lock down

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I've said it before here on el Reg

      Well it really really depends on incubation periods and infectivity periods. The average incubation period to symptoms is about 5 days. They reckon you can pass it on in the 2 to 3 days prior to symptoms as well as while symptomatic, but peak 'infectivity is probably around 1 day before to 3 days after.

      So you cough on day 5. You get tested day 6. You get results day 7 (in some sort of magic world with prompt efficient testing). Assuming you self isolated when the cough started the people at real risk are your day 4/5 contacts. If you inform them by Day 8 and they isolate you would be in time to stop them passing it on. In practice it's all about reducing that r rate. You don't have to stop every secondary case (great if you could) - you just have to stop enough to get r rate down.

      The real world failures of diagnosis and testing mean you probably don't get test results on day 7 - let's say it's day 10. At that point your contacts might be expected to be symptomatic. So actually the key thing is actually self-isolating yourself if you have symptoms. And wear a mask to reduce the spread before you have symptoms..

      1. Peter 26

        Re: I've said it before here on el Reg

        FYI, I've been tested twice and got results 26 hours after first test and 18 hours the second time. I drove to the testing station rather than using the postal version. I was impressed with the speed of results.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: I've said it before here on el Reg

          >I drove to the testing station rather than using the postal version.

          With the new app now everybody else on the M25 would have to isolate

  18. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Coat

    But Y'know, cake?

    Isn't that always better than no cake?

    1. Roopee
      Meh

      Re: But Y'know, cake?

      Not if you are fat. I mean mass-challenged.

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Re: But Y'know, cake?

        Mass-challenged individual here. It's still better.

    2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: But Y'know, cake?

      Especially if the cake has cherries atop.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: But Y'know, cake?

        I thought the cake was a lie?

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: But Y'know, cake?

          "I thought the cake was a lie?"

          No, it's fake news. Different think. Very nuanced.

    3. TRT Silver badge

      Re: But Y'know, cake?

      Actually... it DOES all sound a bit... familiar.

      This was a triumph!

      I'm making a note here:

      Huge success!

      It's hard to overstate

      my satisfaction.

      Aperture Science:

      We do what we must

      because we can

      For the good of all of us.

      Except the ones who are dead.

      But there's no sense crying

      over every mistake.

      You just keep on trying

      'til you run out of cake.

      And the science gets done.

      And you make a neat gun

      for the people who are

      still alive.

      I'm not even angry...

      I'm being so sincere right now.

      Even though you broke my heart,

      and killed me.

      And tore me to pieces.

      And threw every piece into a fire.

      As they burned it hurt because

      I was so happy for you!

      Now, these points of data

      make a beautiful line.

      And we're out of beta.

      We're releasing on time!

      So I'm GLaD I got burned!

      Think of all the things we learned!

      for the people who are

      still alive.

      Go ahead and leave me...

      I think I'd prefer to stay inside...

      Maybe you'll find someone else

      to help you.

      Maybe Black Mesa?

      That was a joke. Ha Ha. Fat Chance!

      Anyway this cake is great!

      It's so delicious and moist!

      Look at me: still talking

      when there's science to do!

      When I look out there,

      it makes me glad I'm not you.

      I've experiments to run.

      There is research to be done.

      On the people who are

      still alive.

      And believe me I am

      still alive.

      I'm doing science and I'm

      still alive.

      I feel fantastic and I'm

      still alive.

      While you're dying I'll be

      still alive.

      And when you're dead I will be

      still alive

      Still alive.

      Still alive.

  19. FordPrefect

    Its good they've finally seen sense. But who will take responsibility for 3 months and millions of pounds wasted? I bet it won't be Hancock or Dido, I mean she is a professional at avoiding any responsibility just look at the talktalk fiasco ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      be fair

      To be fair she was appointed a month after the app was announced - so she shouldn't get more than 50% of the blame. And I actually have some sympathy for Matt Hancock - not because I think hes doing a good job, just because I think that when the dust settles he will be the sacrificial lamb on the altar of the government's general incompetence.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Translation: "We could have gone with the Google and Apple solution from the start, like everyone else, but then we wouldn't have been able to spaff millions in taxpayers money on our great friend Dildo Hardon, who completely coincidentally just happens to be married to a Tory MP...."

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Not "everyone" has gone the Goople route. Hindsight is great obviously but let's remember Commentards here spend most of their time criticising those two companies above all others for data-slurping.

      Other nations ARE running into issues with the Goople approach, and we've seen some countries that have an app, it's not really being used.

      Wearables are being discussed as a better idea it seems. I would wonder if in future, all new smartphone models will include dedicated, accurate distance-measuring stuff to some new standard?

      1. theOtherJT

        Look, you're not wrong. Google / Apple sure, their approach isn't perfect by any means - there's a good argument to be made that this whole thing is a folly and is never going to work because people will be uncooperative and just refuse to install the thing, or turn their phone off because they don't trust big-data / the gubbermint snooping on them.

        Facetious spelling aside, I do appreciate that concern. I don't really trust Google, Apple or the British government with my data either.

        But since apparently we're doing this shit regardless, how about we just go straight to the bit where we buy into the system at at least technically sort of works if everyone co-operates and then wait for it to fail when they don't as opposed to the one where we spend a few hundred million on filling contractors pockets first and then STILL have to go back to what pretty much everyone else did?

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Translation: "We could have gone with the Google and Apple solution from the start"

      Except that the Google/Apple "solution", a), isn't a solution as such, just an API, and b) didn't exist until a month later.

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        "Except that the Google/Apple "solution", a), isn't a solution as such, just an API, and b) didn't exist until a month later."

        It's an API that works, that was available early May in a beta version, released and installed on phones on May 15th, and Latvia, the leader in mobile phone technology, released an app May 29th.

  21. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "none of them are working sufficiently well enough to actually be reliable to determine whether any of us should self isolate for two weeks.”

    So use them to determine who should be tested.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    From the article:

    One beef is that the Apple-Google system approximates how close you got to someone who was infected. Hancock wants to know those distances more precisely

    Never mind Hancock; I want it to be accurate, so that it actually does a useful job. If it's useless, we're going to be stuck with other less tolerable control measures instead.

    Bluetooth can travel surprisingly far in some circumstances. There's no point in Apple / Google's approach if it results in too many false alarms, and it's also useless if it under cooks it too. Apple / Google's approach could, if it's simply too inaccurate, be worse than useless. Too many false positives and people will ignore it, especially if they know no-one can check up on them.

    I strongly suspect that all of these things are going to be inherently more problematic for people who live in apartments compared to those who live in detached houses. Gauging "proximity" to a known case is going to be something of a guessing game.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      It's based on the proximity of your phone anyway.

      Leave your phone on the desk and someone walks past when you're not there and you're now linked.

      Drive past a cyclist. Linked.

      Stand on opposite sides of a wall. Linked.

      And that's if they have BT turned on and are using the app.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Wrong

        The apps all have a distance/exposure time algorithm of some sort. So unless you drive past a cyclist really slowly while they are stationary you won't get linked. and while bluteooth distance estimation is hard and fraught with errors, it's not impossible.

        This is a classic case where perfection is the enemy of good, its like half of El Reg really don't want anything to work. I really really hate to think Boris was right in anything, but stay alert is probably a good motto. If you get told you were exposed you could, if you had been alert, say -oh that might have been when I sat behind that guy on the bus who was coughing or - oh - well I haven't been near anyone in the last 72 hours except that guy who cycled past and waved hi - I'm probably good.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Wrong

          "its like half of El Reg really don't want anything to work."

          Nail, meet head :-)

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "Leave your phone on the desk and someone walks past when you're not there and you're now linked."

        Oh FFS! Again? Unless $stranger spent 15 minutes standing next to your phone then you are NOT linked.

        If you don't understand the definition of social distancing and what is a "contact" then stop making comments until you do.

      3. gnasher729 Silver badge

        And you think Apple's and Google's engineers are total numpties who never thought of these things. Leaving your phone on your desk is something you should _never_ do, and especially with Covid you'd have to be stupid to do so. I assume a minimum of intelligence in people I share this planet with. Drive past a cyclist? Contact for 0.5 seconds, not linked. Stand on opposite sides of the wall? Tell me who does that. BT not turned on? Guess what, if Covid tracking is turned on then they assume you want Covid tracking to work, and it does, no matter what your Bluetooth settings.

    2. Paul Shirley
      FAIL

      The antenna design guide I just skimmed tells me BT signals (2.4-2.4835 GHz) are strongly absorbed by human bodies. If your phone is in a pocket you'll get severely reduced coverage for up to half the area around you, + some variation from omnidirectional antenna never quite being fully spherical.

      It's also a noisy band, shared with too many other services.

      BT is inherently unpredictable in real life. Any distance calculation little more than a bad guess. No amount of political wish making beats physics.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        You don't need to be precise - you just need a robust probabilistic estimate of close vs not close. And there is loads of actual science out there where people have managed accuracies of less than 10 cm in nicely controlled circumstances. Apple already had an Ibeacon technology that is pretty good in the 'am I nearer' than 3 metres range . inverse distance laws are your friend!

      2. gnasher729 Silver badge

        "BT is inherently unpredictable in real life. Any distance calculation little more than a bad guess. No amount of political wish making beats physics."

        You see unsurmountable problems. If it was my job, I'd see an interesting challenge, and I'd get it working.

    3. Richard 12 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      The two are using the same method.

      The only difference is that Apple and Google know far more about the real-world behaviour of bluetooth chipsets, because they've spent over a decade working with them and contributing to the standards.

      So GA's avoidable errors are going to be far smaller.

      The unavoidable errors are exactly the same.

      And aside from that:

      It doesn't matter

      2m is not a magical bubble. It's a distance where the overall probability of transmission is estimated to have dropped below some arbitrary (unpublished) level.

      Halve it, and that risk is ten times greater. Presumably doubling it reduces the risk to a tenth.

      So, it doesn't matter if a small percentage of "contacts" are erroneously missed or included in a 2m sphere, as long as the majority of contacts are actually included.

      What does need to be done is rapid testing. Yet Hancock won't even release data about test turnaround times.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: The two are using the same method.

        As you say the whole thing is probabilistic. It means (and this applies to the manual tracing) there will be false positives and false negatives - choosing s threshold will tend to tip the balance between them. But it does mean that a "contact" is really no more than an indication to test, not an indication to self-isolate. And the rate of false positives/negative is something else Hancock isn't releasing - assuming he knows - assuming he's even asked - assuming anyone's able to work it out - assuming anyone who should care does.

  23. Lee D Silver badge

    It's a lovely expensive waste of time, that's for sure.

    I don't have Bluetooth on unless I'm using it, so it won't detect me at all.

    If you walk past someone's phone, presumably that counts as "contact", rather than any actual physical contact.

    The people who aren't running it but have BT on are just going to be BT MAC addresses, you can't do anything about tracing them really.

    Then, if it works, you can tell a lot of people - those who are voluntarily walking around with BT on, the app enabled, etc. - to go into lockdown, and they can just ignore you anyway.

    I honestly don't see what we're trying to achieve here. One guy walks through town with the app (showing he's quite diligent anyway, presumably), days later discovers he had the virus, then we have to inform hundreds of people (also likely the ones diligently distancing) that they might have it, and they can't go to work.

    Just... continue lockdown.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      there a time thing too.

      "within 2 metres for more than 30 seconds" , or is it 30 minutes"

      Either way if it was me the speed i walk through town , thered be no triggers

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How many fffffing times. It's not about tracing brush past contacts. And if you have the app then it will presumably turn Bluetooth on - that's rather the point . But hey - stay home don't go out at all, then you won't have to self isolate!

    3. smudge

      If you walk past someone's phone, presumably that counts as "contact", rather than any actual physical contact.

      I don't think so. I'm pretty sure that time comes into the equation as well, so that you would have to spend, say, 15 minutes with someone closer than 2 metres before "contact" was registered.

    4. gnasher729 Silver badge

      "I don't have Bluetooth on unless I'm using it, so it won't detect me at all."

      You don't need to turn Bluetooth on in your phone's settings. You need to install and run the app, and it will tell you that you need to turn on the API as well. And since Apple / Google control your phone, they will reasonably assume that if you are running the app, and have the API enabled, then you actually want it to work. And Bluetooth will work for this API and for nothing else.

      If the guy with the virus was close to 100 people (aka a "super super spreader"), yes, then hundreds of people would be informed indeed. But you have to be close over a length of time to trigger this.

    5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "I don't have Bluetooth on unless I'm using it, so it won't detect me at all."

      Since you don't have the app installed, then clearly it won't detect you because if you did try to install the app then you made the decision to allow or refuse BT permissions. Either the app is installed with permission to turn on BT or it's not installed. It's not rocket science.

      I not also that you are yet another commentard who has failed to understand what a "contact" is. Hint: It involves distance and TIME.

  24. BRYN

    Anybody even slightly surprised?

    I know I'm not

  25. GDL1944

    So does anyone have any inside knowledge on when the Google/Apple API based app will be ready?

    It's quite reasonable for the government not to want to say after this SNAFU, but does anyone know, or even have a good rumour?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: So does anyone have any inside knowledge on when the Google/Apple API based app will be ready?

      The German one is in use.

      The England one will never happen.

      Scotland will probably make their own, forked from the German one.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I heard a rumour

    Is it true that Dominic Cummings' brother owns the company that the government, inadvisedly, pumped money into to build this app?

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: I heard a rumour

      i thought they got this "nhsx" to do it . are they nhs or brotherco?

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: I heard a rumour

        Hm. I know the BDM of NOCRI. I could ask her.

  27. J27 Bronze badge

    Apple places huge restrictions on iOS apps. If only they'd asked one competent iOS developer about this at the beginning. The first thing out of every iOS dev's mouth in my experience is "Apple won't let you do that, but we can do...". iOS development is a pain, and if Apple didn't have the market share they currently have, no one would be writing iOS apps at all.

  28. Old Tom

    Did he really promise a “world-beating app.”?

    My recollection is that he promised a world-beating track and trace system, to which the app contributed. That may well not have been delivered, but unless someone can point me to it I don't think he ever said the app would be world-beating.

  29. briesmith

    There Really Is No Point

    No Bluetooth based contact recording app will ever work reliably.

    And no app will be worth the battery power expended which relies on a ping going off on a mobile phone saying, "You've been in contact somewhere unspecified with someone unnamed who has tested positive for Covid so please lock yourself away for 14 days (yes, we know this is the 9th time you've had such a contact and have hardly been outside your house in nearly 6 months, except for the odd 8 days when you bumped into a Covid sufferer but that's how it goes)."

    And did someone really authorise the spending of £108 million on a single app? Really? In the few short weeks the development fiasco lasted, how many people did they persuade the government were going to be working on the project? Can we see the timesheets?

    Anywhere, what is Covid infectivity anyway? I have had Covid (antibody tested twice). My wife (with whom I live etc) hasn't. What issue are we actually trying to address here?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There Really Is No Point

      >Anywhere, what is Covid infectivity anyway? I have had Covid (antibody tested twice). My wife (with whom I live etc) hasn't

      It's not possible to determine if someone hasn't had it. She most likely shrugged it off without noticing - though should of course assume she's vulnerable.

      Unfortunately the NHS info is increasingly press release and spin - there's reliable info here on testing though:

      https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/index.html

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: There Really Is No Point

        While I accept that the CDC have some good info to disseminate, they are also the people who oversaw the production and distribution of flawed and contaminated test kits.

        Likewise, while the NHS have got some stuff wrong, they also have got some good info to disseminate.

        This pandemic has highlighted the flaws in many systems, organisations and governments. I'd be very wary of taking any one group as being definitive.

    2. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: There Really Is No Point

      A user of the Swiss app reported 5% battery usage over 24 hours. We can live with that.

  30. Stork Silver badge

    Please stop beating!

    Thanks, the World

  31. JDPower

    "What we’ve done in really rigorously testing both our own COVID-19 app, and the Google-Apple version"

    Except according to the tory minister on Question Time last night they DIDN'T test the Goog-Apple app. There was no need as "it was being widely used elsewhere". The whole "backing both horses" is complete BS

  32. Charles Smith

    Time to fall/sit on sword?

    The CEO of NHSX has little IT development experience:

    https://order-order.com/2020/06/19/boss-of-nhsx-should-be-fired-over-app-fiasco/

    Writing on the wall for this £150K pa civil servant?

  33. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    The UK government last night confirmed it has aborted its ill-conceived coronavirus contact-tracing phone app – blaming protections and battery-saving restrictions in Apple’s iOS for its failure.

    So basically, they're blaming Apple because Apple has built in safeguards into its OS to prevent apps hoovering up personal data about our movements and sending it to a bucket somewhere in AWS to be retained for 20 years by the data-harvesting companies behind the brexit fraud?

    Now, I'm no fan of Apple, but to me it sounds like they are protecting us all from the very worst of unaccountable data fetishists.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      sending it to a leaky bucket somewhere in AWS

      FTFY

  34. Mark192 Bronze badge

    Use your common sense, please!

    Lots of talk here about fleeting contacts not being picked up, or resulting in a later notification to quarantine when it was not necessary (distance, passing cyclist in car etc).

    It's likely that the time spent close, plus the amount of times spent close, would be taken account of. E.g. multiple contacts or prolonged contact may be needed to trigger an alert to quarantine as single, fleeting contacts may be deemed to be of less risk.

    Also, many people saying it won't pick up this or that so won't work. It doesn't have to be anywhere near perfect, it just has to be good enough, to work well enough, at reducing infections.

    Obviously it was complete crap so the above is moot.

  35. JimmyPage
    Facepalm

    Now Apple denying all knowledge too ...

    Tsk tsk tsk

  36. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Security theatre

    I really cannot see how any contact tracing based on bluetooth can be anywhere close to effective enough to make any difference whatsoever to the spread of the virus. Being within range of another bluetooth device does not mean that you at at all likely to have caught the virus, and not having come within range does not mean you are significantly more likely to be safe. Consequently there will be far too many of both false positives and false negatives to be of any help at all. In fact, making people stop work and isolate for 14 days because (for example) they had an infected person stop next to them when both were in their cars at traffic lights will cause unnecessary hardship for many people.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Security theatre

      Metal boxes are pretty good at blocking radio waves, even when car-shaped and with holes to see out of.

      Aside from that, it doesn't need to be very good to be very effective, if testing is fast and provided to all contacts with appropriate delays.(something like ~5 days after possible exposure.)

      Don't feel too bad though, nobody in Government has even a passing link to reality, let alone a reasonable understanding of the physical world.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Security theatre

        "if testing is fast and provided to all contacts with appropriate delays"

        The current plan seems to be that you don't get tested, you just get told to hide for a fortnight. At the point where isolation fatigue sets in, the alerts are ignored and there's a bit hooha on social media there'll be a U-turn that was, as ever, always the intention. But until then, just go and hide along with the rest of your household.

    2. Mark192 Bronze badge

      Re: Security theatre

      "Being within range of another bluetooth device does not mean that you at at all likely to have caught the virus"

      I was assuming there could be different levels of alert and/or alerts could be sent to people who were repeatedly within close range, or within close range for more than a certain arbitrary time rather than anyone who had a fleeting connection.

      The notification could simply let them know to be alert for the symptoms and offer a test...

      Not a solution but another tool in the armoury.

  37. JDX Gold badge

    The conference was interesting

    In the extent and detail spent talking at a fairly technical level (in high level terms obviously).

    The issue "the Goople distance calculations aren't good enough" seems a reasonable one to make a big deal about, given that as Hancock pointed out you are asking people to self-isolate based on this. If you spent 15minutes 3m apart on a train you do not want to be told to isolate.

    All the political recrininations aside, I'm curious about the "we'll share our stuff with Goople" angle. Is that a real thing or PR fluff?

    Also, do the crowd here thing an app IS the right approach? Bluetooth seems a bad technology. Will newer phones start to include dedicated hardware just for accurate distance measuring?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: The conference was interesting

      Hancock was talking bollocks. Apple say they haven't even been contacted, and it turns out that NHSX haven't even done any testing of the Apple/Google system at all.

      As many people have pointed out, the technique itself has quite large unavoidable errors.

      Being charitable, someone probably told Hancock that the technique is quite imprecise, and he simply doesn't understand that the NHSX app is using the same technique.

      Would be very hard to explain that to him though as he has no understanding of what "2m" or "social distancing" looks like anyway.

    2. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: The conference was interesting

      The problem with Hancock's statement is that he doesn't have the slightest clue how Apple and Google measure distance and calculate exposure risk, so he is talking out of his arse. Bluetooth works quite well, and iPhones and lots of Android phones have these massive AI chips which surely can get some good data out of any Bluetooth chip.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Build and Deploy. Simples

    Building an API for contact tracing is one thing, deploying it may be another.

    As an update to the OS it presumably cannot be deployed via an app, but will need phone vendors to wrap it up in their distros and send it to their phones. As I use the near caveman technology of a 2017 Sammy mobe I would welcome any update of Android but have little expectation of getting one.

    Will the Contact Trace app work only on new-ish phones that still get updates, or will I be required to buy a new mobe to let people know where I am.

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Build and Deploy. Simples

      The API is already installed on people's iPhones since May 15th, and on Android phones via an update directly from Google, bypassing all phone vendor distros. It works on all iPhones less than 5 years old, and I believe on Android phones of similar age.

  39. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Joke

    Make Britain Great Again!

    Every Britain should be using a "Great British" iPhoneukPhone. The Government should pump money into a new startup venture to rival Apple with Dido Harding at the helm called "Lemon". It will produce a better phone than what Apple or Google can offer, and will be the duty of every patriotic Britain to own. It will come with a colour scheme matching the repainted RAF Voyager aircraft, in which Dido Harding can go around the world to promote the phone to the Great British Public

    .

  40. gwp3

    NHS Covid app developers 'tried to block rival symptom trackers'

    NHS Covid app developers 'tried to block rival symptom trackers'

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jun/20/nhs-covid-app-developers-tried-to-block-rival-symptom-trackers

    NHSX, the health service technology unit responsible for the government’s failed contact-tracing app, attempted to block rival apps to protect its own, hampering efforts to track the early spread of the coronavirus.

    Developers of several apps were urged to stop work by either NHSX or the Ministry of Defence, who told them their apps might distract attention from NHSX’s app when it was launched. Last week the app was abandoned after three months, with work beginning on an alternative design without any deadline.

    etc.

  41. AnoniMouse

    Privacy busting Google and Apple controlling UK policy

    Heavens help us if this is a precedent for the future under this lot: UK olicy being dictated by US-based technology companies who pay lip service to privacy whilst striving their utmost to garner every last bit of personal data about users of their technology

    This is not about protecting our privacy; it's about ownership: these companies want to own us, for their private, commercial interests.

    So the UK will now have to make do with a tracing system which lacks, at Apple and Google's behest, the capability to anayse how and where the virus is spreading.

    Big US business: 1; public interest: nil

    Expect such companies to be handed major roles in the UK's National Health Service post-COVID and post-Brexit. And lots more of our data.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And in other news......

    "over 230.000 Indonesian COVID-19 patients records leaked in the darknet."

    https://securityaffairs.co/wordpress/105043/deep-web/indonesian-covid-19-patients-leak.html

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