back to article NHS tests COVID-19 contact-tracing app that may actually work properly – EU neighbors lent a helping hand

NHS England has released its second go at a contact-tracing app to help limit the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus infections, thanks in part to some help from the neighbors. Limited trials of the smartphone app have begun on the Isle of Wight and in the London Borough of Newham, roughly two months after the first version of the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The new app ... advises you on the level of risk of catching the virus in your area"

    So is it centrally logging and recording your location and your phone's IMEI code?

    Presumably, knowing the Government and Cummings, is this a Frankenstein app with bits of centralised identification and tracking bolted on to it?

    1. ceedee

      Re: "The new app ... advises you on the level of risk of catching the virus in your area"

      If the app behaved that way, GApple wouldn't permit access to their api.

      But don't take their word for it: check all the code yourself (both apps and server backend) at the NHSX account on github?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "The new app ... advises you on the level of risk of catching the virus in your area"

        There is code on GitHub, how can we verify that the build that ends up being installed matches the published code?

        How do we verify the backend code is what is actually running?

        How do we know they can't activate behaviour remotely that wasn't active when reviewed by Apple (see Epic) ?

        The problem is the government have destroyed any level of trust we should be able to have in them.

    2. macjules Silver badge

      " ..and can scan QR codes placed on buildings to automatically check-in at those locations, "

      Wow, one day they might even use something that could triangulate your location from satellites and tell you exactly where you are.

      1. Jan 0 Silver badge

        Re: " ..and can scan QR codes placed on buildings to automatically check-in at those locations, "

        @acjules

        > Wow, one day they might even use something that could triangulate your location from satellites and tell you exactly where you are.

        Yes, but even if they did invent something like that, how would it work with buildings, or even trees, between you and the satelites? Gamma Rays perhaps?

        1. mittfh

          Re: " ..and can scan QR codes placed on buildings to automatically check-in at those locations, "

          GPS signals are attenuated by trees and buildings, but not necessarily completely eliminated. Just ask any Geocacher - you might end up doing the Drunken Duck Dance trying to find the inevitable Ivy Covered Tree in the forest full of ICTs, but it'll get you within a few dozen metres.

          As for buildings, Google has a habit of popping up Android notifications when you visit certain businesses, inviting you to submit a review...

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: " ..and can scan QR codes placed on buildings to automatically check-in at those locations, "

            "but it'll get you within a few dozen metres."

            Exactly! So completely useless at working out if you are standing or sitting outside a building on your own or inside with dozens of other people.

      2. teifion

        Re: " ..and can scan QR codes placed on buildings to automatically check-in at those locations, "

        1. I think a lot of people would not use the app if it was tracking where you were all the time.

        2. You would need location services turned on draining battery for this.

        3. GPS isn't that reliable inside and it would mean geofencing every venue at some step in the process

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: " ..and can scan QR codes placed on buildings to automatically check-in at those locations, "

          erm... remember when Google got into trouble for logging the location of every WiFI network with the streetview cars?

    3. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: "The new app ... advises you on the level of risk of catching the virus in your area"

      You are asked for your post code and they work it out from the first half.

  2. StephenTompsett

    Over sensitivity

    Why is there so much of a concern that the app may be too sensitive, and is likely to over estimate the risk of infection from people 2m or more away?

    This type of problem is inconvenient, and may lead to people quarantining and or getting tested, and may actually help save lives by alerting an at risk person that they have ben in the vicinity of an infected person.

    Failure to detect that the user of the app has been in the vicinity of an infected person is likely to be a fatal error - literally!

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Over sensitivity

      Cobblers on all fronts.

      Firstly too many false alarms and people wont use it.

      Secondly the odds suggest your "fatal error" is unlikely to be fatal. (and is poor sense of humour imo)

      Have a fail icon sir!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        How will they know it's a false alarm?

        Someone who is in their "contact list" gets Covid, they're notified, self isolate and don't get it. Was that because:

        a) The person was more than 2m away and could not infect them; or

        b) The person was within 2m but did not infect them?

        Either way, they were near someone who did have it. It may be inconvenient to have to isolate, but it is better for too many people to do so if the reproduction rate is to be kept to a level that a second wave is not triggered.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

          Strange, that in countries that have the apps in use, people have stopped touting them. Couldn't have anything to do with the lack of efficacy, could it?

          Isolation isn't just inconvenient it's also potentially expensive.

          Talk of a second wave is nonsense and continuing to do so is likely to fuel "covid fatigue". The virus is now effectively endemic so outbreaks are inevitable as the recent outbreak in New Zealnd demonstrates. The focus has shifted to dealing with and containing those and improving treatments for those that need them. Oh, and a hugh sigh of relief from all concerned that mortality rate is as low as it is.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "Talk of a second wave is nonsense"

            Would be interested in seeing the evidence that supports that.

            1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

              Re: "Talk of a second wave is nonsense"

              It's quite simple: the idea of a second wave suggests it's been and gone. But the fact that it's endemic means it's not gone away and will continue to flare up. This requires different tactics.

            2. Richard Jones 1
              WTF?

              Re: "Talk of a second wave is nonsense"

              I am quite enjoying the lack of competition to go out and about for no real reason. Fuel is saved, overall costs are reduced, I guess it is isolation already, it suits me fine. As for this app, one that may or may not work, may not know the difference between 2 cm, 2 metres or maybe 2 km and might not install on my 3-year-old phone. In a short phrase, no.

            3. teifion

              Re: "Talk of a second wave is nonsense"

              Leicester, Aberdeen

              1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

                Re: "Talk of a second wave is nonsense"

                Local outbreaks, entirely to be expected. Leicester's clothing factories are a series of accidents waiting to happen. And, have you seen the STD numbers for Aberdeen?

                Of course, local outbreaks can spread to become regional and then national, but current trends indicate better testing, better treatment and, thankfully, much lower mortality.

                To be clear: Covid-19 should be taken seriously, but personally I'd argue no more seriously than influenza (I have a jab every year). But, as with many such events, the 24 news cycle focuses on particular ideas and terms: "second wave"; "asymptomatic infection", etc. which quickly become dissociated from any scientific definition they may have had. cf. "global pandemic". It's sad, but the news cycle actually lives off predicting that things will get worse.

                Over the next few weeks we will get data from the return to schools in many countries and the effectiveness of targeted testing: at least in Germany, a signficant number of test results are coming from people returning from places with current outbreaks.

                1. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

                  Re: "Talk of a second wave is nonsense"

                  While it is dropping, the case fatality rate in the US is still over 3%. That's very, very much worse than flu.

                  Covid-19 does deserve to be taken much more seriously than flu.

                  1. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

                    Re: "Talk of a second wave is nonsense"

                    Case fatality rate is not the same as infection fatality rate.

                    In this context it is CFR is quite meaningless.

                  2. intrigid

                    Re: "Talk of a second wave is nonsense"

                    You're confusing case fatality with infection fatality. You're factually wrong; flu case fatality is far higher than 3%. In most countries it's north of 10%. That's because very few people who get the flu go to the trouble of testing for it. Even if they go to the doctor complaining of flu symptoms, very few doctors will send away for a flu test. They save the actual flu tests for elderly and people with pre-existing conditions, which explains why the flu case fatality rate is so high.

          2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

            Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

            Number of new cases in England has been going up steadily for weeks. It's now doubled in the last month (1000/day) - Wales and Scotland largely under control. Funny that.

            1. genghis_uk Bronze badge

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              [Number of new cases in England has been going up steadily for weeks]

              But the number of hospital cases has not risen significantly for a while which leads to:

              a) the people being infected are under 40 and less likely to suffer extreme symptoms that require hospitalisation - possible given the demographic of pub/bar/restaurant goers and generally less concern in this age group

              b) the reason for the uplift is a greater number of people being tested not necessarily a greater number of cases - of course this one could hint that England is doing better at testing than Scotland or Wales so it couldn't be right

              c) a blend of both

              Hospitalisation data https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/covid-19-uk-hospital-admissions/

              (Note: the page says May 1st but the data is current)

              1. mittfh

                Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

                Even though they may not need hospital admission (so therefore are clinically classed as mild), evidence suggests a decent proportion will be "long haulers", who have symptoms for a month or more, alternatively they develop symptoms consistent with CFS.

                There's also the possibility as asymptomatic transfer to more vulnerable people (particularly when socially focused businesses that appeal more to older demographics start reopening).

                1. intrigid

                  Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

                  The problem is the false notion that if a young person tests positive for the virus, has little to no symptoms (as is the majority of cases), and gets over it, that something bad has happened. This is silly; something very good has happened. Societal immunity has increased, and the potential for the virus to spread has been undermined.

                  This is why "number of cases" is such a useless, harmful statistic. It lumps in the good events with the bad events into one big number.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              Scotland largely under control.

              As long as you don't live in a care home.

            3. Nifty Silver badge

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              England's counting method was fundamentally different from Scotland's apparently, until yesterday..

              https://www.euronews.com/2020/08/13/coronavirus-uk-reduces-death-toll-by-5-000-as-it-revises-counting-strategy

            4. RayG

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              The proportion of tests that are positive hasn't gone up, the number of tests has gone up. (This also appears to be true of France, but maybe not Spain, it's hard to tell).

              In fact the proportion of tests is hovering around the level where the (small) proportion of false positives is adding an awful lot of noise to the signal.

              The Oxford CEBM group make a quite persuasive case for this:

              https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/covid-cases-in-england-arent-rising-heres-why/

          3. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Talk of a second wave is nonsense?

            The rolling 7 day average has risen by 70% in just over a month. That rise will be starting to show in an increase in deaths but the deaths figures have not been published, and now, apparently, the infection rate figures have not been received!

            The disease is not endemic yet - 5% of the population has been effected in the UK, NZ will be clean in a month or two, we could if we took it seriously.

            1. The Dogs Meevonks

              Re: Talk of a second wave is nonsense?

              Some people are incapable of understand how it spreads.... they look at a chart and go. 'See... it's been flat for 2 weeks, and deaths have fallen' as proof that it's been dealt with.

              But here's the thing... after a surge in infection... it takes 2-3 weeks for that spike to show up properly, and it takes a further 3-4 weeks before the spike in deaths starts to show up.

              You can't know if the containment has worked until you've waited at least 5-6 weeks.. and then after you start lifting restrictions... you have to wait 5-6 weeks to see if there's a spike.

              Guess what... 5-6 weeks after restrictions were lifted.... we SAW SPIKES.

              1. Tom 7 Silver badge

                Re: Talk of a second wave is nonsense?

                What is worrying is the ONS keeps claiming it has the best info. Random low level sampling of the population is almost designed to miss the outbreaks that are the real spreaders of the disease.

          4. gnasher729 Silver badge

            Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

            You are supposed to install the app, give it all necessary permissions, and then there’s nothing you have to do except taking your phone with you when you leave your home - which you would do anyway. You would only use the app if you test positive, or when it alerts you that you are at risk.

          5. Potemkine! Silver badge

            Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

            Talk of a second wave is nonsense:

            So what does happen in Spain if not a second wave?

            1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              So what does happen in Spain if not a second wave?

              Same as in the UK, it's still the first wave that was paused due to the extreme lockdown, and is now picking up again with the easing of lockdown. To truly be a second wave would mean that it had dropped to undetectable levels, life had gone back to normal, and then it had come back.

              What we need to do is to contain the spread until it either does die out (through immunity or otherwise, as previous SARS outbreaks have), or we have a vaccine. In the meantime we can at least use the treatments that we now have to reduce the severity of the symptoms so that people recover, and try not to destroy the economy any further.

              1. Potemkine! Silver badge

                Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

                " To truly be a second wave would mean that it had dropped to undetectable levels, life had gone back to normal, and then it had come back."

                BS.

                Second wave: A phenomenon of infections that can develop during a pandemic. The disease infects one group of people first. Infections appear to decrease. And then, infections increase in a different part of the population, resulting in a second wave of infections.

                You don't need to fall to undetectable levels to talk about a second wave. Just look at the curve and you'll see it fits the definition: a notable decrease followed by a new increase.

          6. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

            Let's make something very clear here... because I don't think you understand the scope of the problem at all. So I'm going to try and educate you a little... how you take this is entirely up to you... you can blindly ignore facts, logic and reason... and continue to spout crap and bull... and I'll go about my day as normal wondering how idiots manage to survive.

            So here goes...

            the fatality rate is between 1-2% on average across ALL age ranges... there is NO immunity amongst any age group.

            For every 1 person that dies a further 19 will require hospital treatment, of those 18 of them will suffer lifelong debilitating health problems that include respitratory illness, heart problems, strokes, cognitive problems and neurological problems.

            So let's go by current figures shall we... currently about 6% of the UK population has been infected... we have over 46000 official recorded deaths but the true figure is likely to be around 20,000 higher because they weren't recording any deaths outside of the healthcare system, nor were they recording any deaths that died more than 28 days after first testing positive... skewing the numbers drastically.

            Over 46k dead,.. over 800k require hospital treatment, 750k will have life altering after effects... and that's just after the first wave... if we ignore the potential for a second wave... and IT WILL happen if we don't keep on top of it and lock down areas that show signs of further spread.. those figures will grow and grow and grow.

            But sure... go ahead... ignore the evidence... but if you want to learn something. Go and look up what happened with the influenza pandemic of 1918-1920... Because guess what... that came in 3 waves, the first wave was mild and people suffered for a week or two and deaths were low... but it mutated and spread rapidly and in the second wave it killed within 24-48hrs... and then it mutated again and the 3rd wave did just as much damage.... between 50-100 million people died with a world population of around 2 billion... that had a fatality rate similar to covid (on average across 3 waves)

            We now have over 7 billion people... if it runs rampant like it did 100yrs ago... that's 175-350 million people who could die... and more than 10 times that number who could require lifelong health care and medical support.

            But sure... go ahead... continue to dismiss it, simply because it's an inconvenience to you... I sure hope you don't get it... and if you do, I hope you recover without serious side effects...and I hope you don't pass it along to some one who's vulnerable... because I'm sure you wouldn't want to be responsible for killing another human being because of ignorance, carelessness and stupidity.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              currently about 6% of the UK population has been infected

              Current figure is 0.05%

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              "we have over 46000 official recorded deaths but the true figure is likely to be around 20,000 higher because they weren't recording any deaths outside of the healthcare system, nor were they recording any deaths that died more than 28 days after first testing positive... skewing the numbers drastically."

              FYI, the figures were skewed upwards because England WAS recording deaths of anyone who tested positive and then subsequently died. They have now changed the counting method to match that of Scotland, more or less, ie deaths of those who tested positive and died within 28 days are recorded as COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total down from 46K to 41K. As an aside, they also include those who died after a positive test where the death occurs up to 60 days later if the death certificate indicated COVID|-19 as the cause which I think the Scots don't do.

              Likewise, please show where you get the 6% of the population has been infected from. That is AT LEAST an order of magnitude more than any figures I've seen.

              Since it's clear to me those two facts you provided are wrong and all the rest of your opinion is based on those broken facts, it pretty much negates your entire post.

              1. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

                Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

                6% is in a recent Imperial College / Ipsos Mori study:

                https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/largest-home-antibody-testing-programme-covid-19-publishes-findings

                Published two days ago.

                1. RayG

                  Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

                  6% testing positive for antibodies doesn't necessarily mean 6% exposed - it's a serious over-claim to say 6% antibody positive means 6% have had it.

                  - The kind of antibodies we test for aren't the only immune mechanism, so there are certainly cases of people having defeated an infection but who would never test positive for those particular antibodies.

                  - Even for those people who did produce the tested antibodies, the antibody level also falls off over time - so someone who had the disease and their body responded that way five months ago, in March when it was probably much more prevalent than now, might test negative today. This isn't really a "false" negative, but a sensitivity threshold that prevents the test from having an unacceptably high rate of false positives. The body can ramp up production of previous antibodies from incredibly low levels so it doesn't tend to hang on to huge stocks forever.

                  If the study really meant only 6% ever having had the disease, that would tell us that it probably wasn't very infectious (even if you unsafely assume "lockdown" was highly effective, it was in the country for some time before that). Frankly, that conclusion seems very odd. If instead it were 6% falling into the narrow category of people who had it, and responded with the kind of antibody we can test for, recently enough to show up - that would suggest that rather more than 6% of people have got over it already but maybe it was quite infectious after all. Less qualified conclusions are much harder to draw.

                  Unfortunately nobody seems to have any solid data on whether people in either of those "had it, but won't show on the antibody survey" categories retain some resistance to catching it again, though it is quite likely. I don't know how prevalent sars-cov-2 is, but I do know (through my work) that there is a serious epidemic of poor-quality scientific papers going on. Symptoms include unverified assumptions in conclusion sections. Read with caution.

            3. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              What a load of bollocks.

              Grow some balls and stop be hysterical

            4. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              >We now have over 7 billion people... if it runs rampant like it did 100yrs ago... that's 175-350 million people who could die... and more than 10 times that number who could require lifelong health care and medical support.

              Trouble is, we really need to get that "over 7 billion" down to sub 3 billion by 2050...

          7. sysconfig

            Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

            Isolation isn't just inconvenient it's also potentially expensive.

            What's the price tag on your life, mine, or that of any other person?

            Yes this pandemic costs money. So what? That does not give anyone the right to sacrifice the lives of 10s of thousands of people, least of all an inept government with a cabinet full of clowns.

            1. iGNgnorr

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              "Yes this pandemic costs money. So what?"

              So someone has to pay for it. The government? They don't actually have money: what they spend comes from your pocket and mine. Soak the rich? Well, there's actually not enough of them to pay for all this. Businesses then. We're already seeing that many of them are struggling - of course, to some they are just laying off staff so they can keep their big bonuses, but with no income and your prospect of making them pay for unnecessary isolation, it doesn't actually work quite like that. How's your local pub/nightclub/beauty salon/etc. doing for example? Rolling in cash?

            2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              What's the price tag on your life, mine, or that of any other person?

              I'm not putting a price tag on anyone's life, I was merely stating that isolation is not just "inconvenient" but also has costs. Taking people out of work can also reduce their life expectancy: the West is lucky, but other countries can already count the dead caused by lockdowns and the loss of income.

              But there have been other associated costs, such as the number of people not going for scans or checkups or whose operations were deferred. This will lead, inevitably, lead to higher mortality rates.

            3. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              There are lots of estimates for the lethality of this virus for those who catch it.

              I understand CDC in the US ( a fairly reputably institute) estimates it to be 0.26%. That's not an absolute limit, but their best estimate, with error bars (could be higher, could be lower).

              UK government (i.e. the civil servants and scientists, not the politicians) estimate that lock-down will kill 25,000 people in the short term and 185,000 in the longer term in the UK. That is also a best estimate (could be higher, could be lower), and to emphasise - this is deaths caused by lock-down, not by COVID.

              210,000 people amounts to approximately 0.31% of the UK population.

              So to save 0.26% of the population, we are prepared to kill 0.31% of the population.

              Yes, some that get infected don't die but do suffer severe issues thereafter. But also, whatever we do, some of those 0.26% are going to die from COVID, so we're not even saving 0.26% by killing 0.31%.

              Additionally, crashing the economy also affects quality of life (not least the reduction in tax income which will reduce funding for the NHS for the next decade - that life saving drug? sorry can't afford it; that quality-of-life hip operation? Nope, reached our limit for this year).

              Why is the life of someone that would die of COVID more important than the life of someone that has died of sepsis or a heart attack because they didn't seek treatment in time (due to lock-down), or will die from cancer (detected too late to be treatable, because of lock-down)?

              Whatever the UK (or any other) government does, people will die of COVID, and will die of the measures that have been taken to stop COVID,

              1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

                Re: Why is the life of someone that would die of COVID more important

                My understanding is it is purely to prevent the NHS becoming submerged with Covid cases (which is a political black mark).

                Be under no illusion.

                The Government doesn't care whether you live or die. It does care though whether, in dying (on their doorstep, as it were), you make the statistics look bad.

                All these people who have been shielding can come out to play now. It is no safer than before, mind you, it just means that you're not going to be such a big blip on the chart, should you succumb now.

                The official retort to the above is that you will receive better individual attention should you become ill now, as opposed to before, but the cynical view is always good to kick the government's tyres with.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

          Alternatively, you do as a company did in Northampton, blanket tested 2000 staff and discovered 300 with CoVid19..

          1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

            Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

            To be technically accurate, 300 of them had a positive test. Which tells us little about how many of them actually had it at the time of the test, or had had it and recovered etc.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              The scary part of this case, is that after the first few were discovered, track and trace found 50 'ish, at which point the company stepped in and paid for the blanket testing...

              BTW the test is for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, ie. active infection that can potentially be passed on not antibodies from a previous infection.

              1. RayG

                Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

                While you're right it's not the same as the antibody test, the PCR test that's being used as an infection test just tests for particular fragments of the virus. It can't tell you if they come from an active infection, or are non-transmissible bits of broken virus lingering in the body after you've already fought it off. This means that, unfortunately, you can apparently still test positive for infection even having got over it some time ago.

        3. Lars Silver badge

          Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

          "they're notified, self isolate and don't get it".

          Certainly you want to have a test quickly first.

          1. hoola Bronze badge

            Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

            Only the test can tell you if you have it. One of the issues is asymptomatic carriers.

            Just like all the Track & Trace, leaving details at bars, quarantine, isolation and testing on symptoms everything is based on trust. The App is just an additional tool however the single biggest improvement will come from the population behaving responsibly.

            It works both ways and currently we are lucky to live in a country where we are not forced to be monitored like Singapore. Unfortunately there appear to be so many who do not give a stuff that at some point we are going to end up with another major outbreak. All that we (and everyone else) are doing are suppressing Covid19. Nobody is beating it or eradicating it, that is the nature of the virus. Looking at the research on immunity they only ways out of this are:

            A viable vaccine with sufficient take-up to be effective.

            Live with the virus and no restrictions accepting a significantly higher risk to the population as a whole.

            Continue with the restrictions (up and down) and to try and to make the best of it whilst having an increasingly horrendous economic situation.

            1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              One of the issues is asymptomatic carriers.

              Which is true of nearly all viral infections. But use it enough and it sounds more sinister.

        4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

          No it is not better. for reasons given in the post to which you replied.

          Look at it on a personal level. If, having emerged a day or so ago from your 3rd groundless period of self-isolation - unpaid if you can't work from home - what are you going to do when you're told yet again you're a contact?

          If you lack the imagination to see how it plays out in that way ,let's try reductio ad absurbam. If false positives are good let's just declare the entire population as contacts and have everyone self isolate. A bit rough on those depending on carers to live but once everyone's emerged again and cleared away the bodies we're free from the virus. Was it a good idea?

          The requirement of any sort of test is its ability to discriminate with a minimum of false positives and false negatives. The problem with this sort of test is that it hasn't really got a good discriminating power. The appropriate response isn't to bias it towards false positives toavoid false negatives and leave it at that. False positives are just too expensive at both the individual personal level and at the collective economic model; we can't afford them.

          What should be done with a test like that is to refine it as much as possible but then treat it as an indicator that a more definitive test is needed. The number of tests currently being processed is well below capacity. Instead of telling the positive contacts to self isolate use that spare capacity and test them. I suppose in another month or two the idea might dawn on Cummings or somebody.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

            It is far safer to have the false positives. Instead of putting a case against that the issue at hand should be the government not supporting people properly financially. If they did then the not being able to work would not matter.

            You last paragraph however is a good point, although getting the test performed exposes more people, and we have had the large batch of home tests recalled due to being crap (once again our wonderful government just handing out contracts to incapable organisations)

            1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

              Re: How will they know it's a false alarm?

              It is far safer to have the false positives.

              That depends entirely non how many real positives there are.

              Assume that you have a test with a 1% false positive rate (which is extremely good, 2-3% is more likely).

              Test 1m people, of whom 200K actually have it. 1% of the 800K who don't will show up as (false) positives, that's 8K. Not so bad compared to 200K, perhaps.

              Now consider the end of the epidemic, when only 1000 people still have the virus. 1% false positive rate of the 999,000 uninfected people is 9990, that's 10x the actual infection rate and makes the test largely worthless.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Over sensitivity

      "Why is there so much of a concern that the app may be too sensitive, and is likely to over estimate the risk of infection from people 2m or more away?"

      It is a lesser concern than various other potential problems, but mostly the worry is that people will become desensitized to requests to quarantine. If the app detects people at a distance, then it will probably pick up lots of them who are on the other side of walls or windows. If it produces a lot of warnings from this then people will be frequently requested to quarantine. If people quarantine without symptoms for a few times, they may think the app isn't doing anything, meaning they ignore it next time it says something. These particular ifs haven't been proven too happen yet, but it could reduce the efficacy of the app if they did. There are other concerns which are more important, including the opposite (no reports because of lacking adoption or testing leading to complacency), but it is at least worth some consideration.

  3. Ali Dodd
    Holmes

    Like to have an expert check the privacy statement & app

    as I do want to know

    A) What data and how long is stored

    B) How identifiable is it

    C) Are they storing what data they claim to be

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Like to have an expert check the privacy statement & app

      Do your own research - its not hard.

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: Like to have an expert check the privacy statement & app

        To my downvoters. 30 secs googling. Hand in your commentard badges at the door.

        https://faq.covid19.nhs.uk/

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Data Protection Impact Assessment

          The Data Protection Impact Assessment and risk registers are living documents and are subject to ongoing review, improvement and clarification.

          Hmm...

        2. Circadian
          Thumb Down

          Re: Like to have an expert check the privacy statement & app

          @Gordon10

          The only way to find out how much to trust the app is to read and understand the code. As a population, not many have that skill (though the readers here are skewed higher). Then, of course, you need access to the code, and verification that what you see is what was used to build the app distributed. Trust in this government is very low - it has been caught lying far too often already.

          1. Potemkine! Silver badge

            Re: Like to have an expert check the privacy statement & app

            Is the code for Apple/Google API available?

            1. teifion

              Re: Like to have an expert check the privacy statement & app

              https://developer.apple.com/documentation/exposurenotification

        3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Like to have an expert check the privacy statement & app

          I agree it now has proper privacy terms. However it's not surprising that people will treat it with a degree of distrust.

          Firstly the original world-beating plan was going to harvest personal details and keep them (strictly for limited purposes of course) for a few decades.

          Secondly successive governments have shown themselves to be data fetishists and the current government's reliance on more of the same only makes things worse.

          Thirdly the whole shebang has been put under the charge of a serial failer when it comes to protecting customers' PII.

          There should be a lesson for governments here. There will come a time when you really need peoples' trust about handling personal data. Trust is a fragile thing. Once you lose it it's not very readily rebuilt. Best not to lose it in the first place.

        4. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Like to have an expert check the privacy statement & app

          I believe your downvoters (for the record, I'm not one of them on either post) are concerned that the app will collect or retain data not specified in more readable statements. It is possible to do one's research by reading the published source, manually build, and attempt comparisons between that and published binaries, but it's not easy. I'm sure it will happen. If I was in the U.K., I would probably spend time doing so. Depending on your level of trust in the government, you may disagree on the need to do such research anyway.

        5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Like to have an expert check the privacy statement & app

          "To my downvoters. 30 secs googling. Hand in your commentard badges at the door."

          Additionally, in the article it states that privacy and at-risk groups were also involved so I would imagine they might be screaming from the rooftops if they'd not been given proper access and assurances.

    2. ibmalone Silver badge

      Re: Like to have an expert check the privacy statement & app

      Having used the Stop Covid NI app while I was visiting for two weeks shortly after launch I was pretty impressed by the data use policy, very clear about purposes of use, what data was collected, what data stripped and at what point, conservative on retention period and with an opt out available at any time. This is in very stark contrast to the policy for the previous NHSX app (and the contact tracing programme) which said approximately, we'll hold all the data you give us for 20 years, we'll be using it for whatever we can think of, no you can't withdraw consent, yes, we'll make it available to Serco.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Won't work anyway

    Even if a reasonable number of people use the app, which I doubt, people probably won't bother to quarantine even if it tells you to. The logic being that if the source of the infection is anonymous to you you'll probably just think it's a false reading or was someone who was not really anywhere near you. I just don't think there will be any trust in the app, and since everything is anonymous who is going to know if you just ignore it.

    I know it's going against everyone's security concerns but if you don't think you're being watched and you don't know particularly why you're being asked to quarantine most people will probably just ignore the app, even if they've gone to the bother of installing it.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Won't work anyway

      The point of the app is to alert you to a possibility of infection. If you don't trust the alert, why use the app ?

      All those people who don't care about quarantine, protecting others and saving lives will not use the app for sure. Those who do likely will, and likely will pay attention if alerted.

      1. Lon24

        Re: Won't work anyway

        The flaw in the app is that those who don't use it are, because of probable associated anti-social behaviours, more likely to be infecting you but not generating warnings. Which really marginalises its efficacy.

        A bad omen for when the anti-vaxers undermine any chance of herd immunity by the immunisation route.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Won't work anyway

        The point of the app is to alert you to a possibility of infection. If you don't trust the alert, why use the app

        Which is probably why very few people anywhere download them. Even in France the app only had 2.5m downloads, and the population is 66m+. At that pitiful level of use it's pointless.

      3. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

        Re: Won't work anyway

        Why would anyone install an app if it means there is a high chance you will be told to quarantine even if you don’t have a virus?

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Won't work anyway

      "I know it's going against everyone's security concerns but if you don't think you're being watched and you don't know particularly why you're being asked to quarantine most people will probably just ignore the app, even if they've gone to the bother of installing it."

      You may well be right, but I can easily see pubs etc deciding that instead of taking peoples details when they arrive, they simply insist that you show them the app installed and running before allowing entry. Likewise, any place that requires the owner/manager to take contact details. Those employees with company supplied mobile phones might find it's a required app too. It could become a requirement on public transport. We see feature creep all the time, no reason this should be any different.

  5. trevorde

    Will anyone use it?

    I'm looking at you, Dominic Cummings!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Will anyone use it?

      "I'm looking at you, Dominic Cummings!"

      Is that him? I'm not sure. I think I need an eye test. Are there any hotel vacancies in Barnard Castle? Oh, never mind, it's only 50 miles down the A1 and right a bit, I'll just drive there anyway.

  6. _LC_ Silver badge
    Mushroom

    More useful

    Can we have an app that detects people in your vicinity running this app?

    I would like to keep my distance from them. I think such an app could be much more popular and both could be really useful when employed together.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: More useful

      Covindr... "hook up with like-minded people in your area"

      1. _LC_ Silver badge

        Re: More useful

        That's been forbidden.

    2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: More useful

      I'd prefer one that detects holiday-makers from England, so I can keep 1000 linguini away. Although you can usually spot them: many of them ignore social distancing rules, don't wear masks, and get irate when it's pointed out that Wales has different rules to England.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: More useful

      "I would like to keep my distance from them."

      You should be doing that anyway because you should be keeping your distance from people in general. The whole purpose of the app is to tell when you've failed.

      1. _LC_ Silver badge

        Re: More useful

        I had Covid-19 in January. It was rather harmless. Therefore, I'm immune.

        Yet, people love to force all kinds of shit onto me for no apparent reason other than bulldozing me into falling in line...

        1. Spanners Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: More useful

          ...Therefore, I'm immune....

          Therefore you were immune. We don't know how long for - possibly for a couple of weeks. I had it asymptomatically - possibly in February*. I am told that I will "almost definitely" not be immune by now or even when I took the antibody test.

          *How do I know it was then? FitBit heart rate monitor says I had over a week of elevated heart rate around mid February as the antibody test doesn't tell you anything other than that you have had it.

          1. _LC_ Silver badge
            Stop

            Re: More useful

            Stop spreading that bullshit. There were some idiots spreading the news that the immunity would go away quickly, because the antibodies disappeared after a few months. This is normal. Antibodies disappear after a while. This is called "T-cell immunity". There has been a recent study in Germany showing that over 80% of the population had some sort of immunity (there are others) against Covid-19. The T-cell immunity typically lasts a few years, often decades. It is better than vaccination (proven in tests), as the Virus keeps mutating.

          2. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

            Re: More useful

            He is immune.

            Grow some balls and stop panicking while reading media that’s only purpose it seems to instill fear.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: More useful

          "I had Covid-19 in January."

          Diagnosed?

          And if so how many others did you infect? A genuine infection back then must represent a considerable number of subsequent infections and maybe there'll have been a few deaths as well.

          "It was rather harmless"

          Assuming you did have it have you been checked for any damage which might give rise to long term complications?

          And see above. If you spread it to others it may have been far from harmless to them.

          "Therefore, I'm immune."

          As per Spanners comment, are you sure?

          In any case, these precautionary measures aren't to protect you, they're to protect the community at large from the possibility that you are are infective. An infection is a phenomenon involving one person, an epidemic or pandemic involves the population at large and the defensive response needs to be that of the entire population not of the entire population excepting those who feel they're somehow above it.

          1. _LC_ Silver badge

            Re: More useful

            I got it from my father (80+). He infected my mother and brother as well. Hence, this is a rather obvious case.

            My father spent a few weeks before getting rid of it, as he is very indisciplined. This is normal for him, though. For the rest of us, it was rather harmless and over quickly.

            Are you always such a cunt?

  7. John Jennings Bronze badge

    As far as I can tell, Northern Ireland is part of the UK....

    We have had a formal NHS Trace and Track app here for about a month and a half - launched with much fanfare.... here anyway.

    It works either side of the border, so I think its a reskinned version of the Irish version (never tested this though)

    https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-stopcovid-ni-proximity-app

    the link above is to the public discription.

    I wonder why the NHS UK or the govt haven't publicized this in the UK? Perhaps because its really the Irish one - and unionists might get nervous?

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: As far as I can tell, Northern Ireland is part of the UK....

      Just normal politics -

      If something is good and not yours - Ignore or spin it to bad.

      If something is bad and not yours - go to town with righteous anger & indignation.

    2. Steve Graham

      Re: As far as I can tell, Northern Ireland is part of the UK....

      The same company did develop both North and South versions, and they are supposed to interwork, so you're probably correct that they are effectively the same software.

    3. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: As far as I can tell, Northern Ireland is part of the UK....

      Irish app cost: €850,000 - seems to work

      English app cost: £12,000,000 - doesn't work at all

      And I assume the Irish one was at least bi-lingual. I trust the English one also catered for a wide range of the languages used in the UK (if not in the IoW).

      But I suppose that's better than £150 million on face masks that don't work at all.

      Why, oh why, aren't we all marching down Whitehall with pitchforks and lengths of rope?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: As far as I can tell, Northern Ireland is part of the UK....

        I'm based in the UK and have been running the Irish App for 2 weeks just to see what it does. They seemed happy for me to register as they offered the option of using a +44 UK phone number. The NI App is not so welcoming as they state its should not be used by those resident outside NI. I get weekly reports confirming i've not had close contact with anyone who also uses the App and has tested positive, and can also look the Covid-19 Exposure logs on my iPhone.

    4. ibmalone Silver badge

      Re: As far as I can tell, Northern Ireland is part of the UK....

      So far as I could see, it wasn't even really being publicised in NI, though I didn't go into Belfast, so maybe they have signs up there. Currently 252k users, which isn't as many as needed to make it effective, however apparently NI's contact tracing effort has been quite successful compared to England, so ironically it may not be as necessary.

      Anyway, it's pretty slick and the T&Cs and data use policy are well-crafted (bar a couple of typos). I have noticed that despite saying it runs if the app is closed it doesn't actually appear to do potential exposure checks (according to the android notification settings) unless it is running. Not sure if that means it wouldn't be collecting contact RIDs either.

    5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: As far as I can tell, Northern Ireland is part of the UK....

      The principle involved is called "Not Invented Here". The purpose is reducing the visibility of egg on face. It's got a long tradition in government circles but particularly desired by the current one at present.

    6. Ken 16 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: As far as I can tell, Northern Ireland is part of the UK....

      Constitutionally, yes. For disease purposes and EU border purposes, no.

    7. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: As far as I can tell, Northern Ireland is part of the UK....

      The Irish app is rather good. It looks attractive, gives useful information and it is decentralized. You can however opt in if you want to be called by the HSE if you came into contact with someone who has covid.

      About the only glitch its suffered recently is that it uses Apple / Google provided bluetooth services that track proximity and the Google service went a bit insane last week and started draining phone batteries. Not the Covid app's fault, but it got the blame because Google's service went haywire.

  8. tfewster Silver badge
    Facepalm

    So rather than deliver a useful basic tracing app when it's needed (based on the successful work of others), we're still waiting for one with useless bells and whistles?

    I predict we'll have an effective 2nd-generation vaccine before we have a useful app in the UK.

  9. iron Silver badge

    And here I could have written it in a week without help from Apple, Google, Germany, Ireland, the Alan Turing Institute, Uncle Tom Cobbley and anyone else who was passing.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "and anyone else who was passing"

      Providing they passed under social distancing rules.

  10. Primus Secundus Tertius

    Government cannot procure

    Yet another failure by British bureaucrats to commission an effective piece of software.

    There are lessons which have been demonstrated many times, but which are being just ignored by our PPE (*) establishment.

    PPE - a. Personal Protective Evasion.

    b. An Oxford degree for waffly essay writers.

    1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Government cannot procure

      Don't worry, Dido Harding's in charge. What can possibly go wrong?

      1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

        Re: Government cannot procure

        Absolutely right. That dodo woman is an absolute sham. I wouldn't trust her to pour piss out of a boot with the instructions on the heel, and in fact I wouldn't rely on that government to organise a bowl of fruit.

        1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Government cannot procure

          > I wouldn't trust her to pour piss out of a boot with the instructions on the heel,

          LOL, did not know that one.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Government cannot procure

      This lot aren't even trying to procure, they are corrupt to the core and are just concerned with lining the pockets of themselves and family/friends.

  11. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Irish support

      Somewhat more constructive than the government, then, who merely fiddles with the specs and wasted time on a tangent.

    2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Irish support

      And why shouldn't they? They'd developed a working app in a matter of weeks, for pretty well peanuts, which had already been adapted for other countries. Their work here is done. Time for a well-deserved pint or two of plain and a chorus of 'Fields of Athenry'.

  12. Ken 16 Silver badge
    Go

    COVID Green on Github

    The Irish app is the same one used in Northern Ireland and in Malta. It's code has also been open sourced via the Linux Foundation. Some US states (Philadelphia at least, possibly more) are considering rolling it out also. It's a bare bones functional implementation of the Google/Apple protocols that does close to what it says on the tin in terms of track and trace. It's a backup to community track and trace not a replacement.

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: COVID Green on Github

      There was an Irish guy on the Beeb today (sorry, a doctor maybe?) discussing the challenge facing the Republic's trace and test.

      Initially they were exemplary, contacting people within a day or two, but that was when numbers were low. Now numbers have risen the delay has doubled, which you will all recognise as geometric.

      The solution obviously is to bump up the number of tracers. He also said their test results were now being delayed making them less useful.

      The 4 Nations (UK) and Ireland face different yet inter-related problems due to the lack of borders. Scotland is aiming for 'Zero COVID', which is torpedoed by England aiming for herd immunity. Northern Ireland seems more similar to the Republic than ever.

  13. TVC

    Can't see it working.

    Only works if the infected are carrying a phone with the app.

    Most people (and M & S sandwiches) will not have the right phone and app and most sandwiches, even those with a meat content have too low an IQ to work a phone.

    1. Mark192 Bronze badge

      Re: Can't see it working.

      TVC said "Can't see it working ... most people..."

      Think of it as another tool that helps.

    2. Ken 16 Silver badge

      Re: Can't see it working.

      Ireland had 120% mobile saturation in 2007 I don't know what the level is now but I don't know anyone without 2 smart phones.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An Englishman, an Irishman and a German

    Gather in a room to build an app.

    That is all.

    So the British brought a massive committee full of old wankers to design the app, the Germans engineered it...presumably the Irish found a way to make it run on a potato.

    1. _LC_ Silver badge

      Re: An Englishman, an Irishman and a German

      "Germans engineered it"

      No, they threw A LOT of money at "the usual companies" (a.k.a. corruption) for something that barely works and nobody uses.

      1. _LC_ Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: An Englishman, an Irishman and a German

        When you get down-voted for telling ugly truths:

        .

        https://amp2.handelsblatt.com/technik/it-internet/widerspruechliche-hinweise-neues-update-der-corona-warn-app-verwirrt-android-nutzer/26087256.html

        "A recent update of the app prompts users to avoid contact with their family - even if no risk has been identified. Only Android users are affected."

        .

        https://www.nzz.ch/schweiz/swisscovid-app-meldungen-von-corona-faellen-kommen-oft-zu-spaet-ld.1569474?reduced=true

        "Hundreds of thousands of people use the Corona-App of the federal government and thus contribute to contact tracing. But only a small proportion of new infections are reported in the app - and when an infection is reported, it is sometimes weeks in the past."

        .

        ... and those are only the latest defects. Prior problems included "silently not working at all". You get the idea.

        1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

          Re: An Englishman, an Irishman and a German

          You seem to imply that app is shit ("You get the idea"). It does have problems (like confusing text as described in the Handelsblatt piece), but those are being addressed.

          For a new piece of software that had to be done pretty damn quick it is not bad.

      2. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: An Englishman, an Irishman and a German

        > A LOT of money

        20 million Euro. Compared to pretty much else these days is not a lot at all.

  15. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    ...though no code was exchanged.

    Ah, so they were using RAD-type tools then.

    Bolt a few components together and hey presto, a fully-featured application.

    We'll find out when the buttons say Ja and Nein, or Tá and Níl

  16. bronskimac

    Added bells and whistles? They haven't learned have they? So if the contact tracking part works but one of the add-ons doesn't, I imagine that may delay the release of the app. They should have built the basic app or better still bought a working one, tested and released before adding any shiny bits.

    1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: Added bells and whistles

      They will come in handy though, for the victim to announce his/her presence in the street should they go out. Just like in the times of the Black Death.

      1. _LC_ Silver badge

        Re: Added bells and whistles

        ... or the yellow stars.

  17. thames

    The "extras" might be more useful than the Blue-tooth tracking.

    The extra bells and whistles might actually be more useful than the Blue-tooth tracking. The QR codes will let people keep a log of where they've been on their phones, which is what public health need to do their jobs. Being able to book a test appointment via the app means its more likely that people will do it ASAP.

    Canada has rolled out an app as well, but there has been limited take-up of it. The problem with the concept is that nobody knows if you're using it or not, and there is no direct personal benefit to anyone who installs it. And that's leaving aside the question of whether the Blue-tooth tracking part of it actually works to a useful degree in the real world as opposed to a test lab.

  18. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

    What “running properly” actually means?

    So far I have not seen any true positive and false positive statistics for any app

    But it might keep you feeling warm inside seen as the app uses your battery life...

  19. Stephane Mabille

    Cummings and friends

    Hi,

    How much of the requirements, designs, data collected, data usage and/or privacy policy has still be within reach of Cummings, Harding and their friends?

    I'm sorry but unless we bought the app off the shelf (no change to design, requirements, data storage, usage and policy) from the neighbours and didn't get a copy of the source code to modify, there is no way I'm going to trust this thing.

    The greatest achievement of this government is the gigantic push towards the public of "zero trust" initiative, never any government manage to get that through so successfully (/sarcasm)

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