NHS is 'Investigating' Switching Its Contact Tracing App to Apple's API

By Shabana Arif on at

The NHS contact tracing app isn't even live yet, and it's riddled with issues on privacy, data, and its basic functionality but it seems someone over there has realised that, with developers reportedly being asked to "investigate" using Apple and Google's API instead.

The NHS app is currently in its second test phase on the Isle of Wight, after being trialled on an RAF base a couple of weeks before. Feedback hasn't been great, for a number of reasons. NHSX has opted for a centralised approach, which is a security concern; it will retain user data once the app is no longer needed (after the pandemic, which seems like light years away); it doesn't require verification for users to log symptoms and once they've done so the data is no longer theirs; the efficacy of the app is being called into question because of how the Bluetooth works; it'll be a huge drain on the battery - flying in the face of what health secretary Matt Hancock said; and it's possibly in breach of human rights and data protection laws. And following this week's trial, senior NHS staff have said that the app has failed basic tests around security and safety to the extent that it's not eligible for the NHS' own app library; although  a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has denied these claims.

But now, the Financial Times has reported on a contract between the NHS' digital branch and app developer Zuhlke Engineering that states that the dev should look at the possibility of using Apple and Google's API:

"The contract includes a requirement to 'investigate the complexity, performance and feasibility of implementing native Apple and Google contact tracing APIs within the existing proximity mobile application and platform'. The work is described as a 'two week timeboxed technical spike', suggesting it is still at a preliminary phase, but with a deadline of mid-May."

Talking to the publication about the contract, an NHSX official said the team has been "working with Apple and Google throughout the app’s development and it’s quite right and normal to continue to refine the app."

The NHS has appeared to be set on sticking with the flawed basis of the app so far, so we'll have to wait and see if it does an about face to assuage concerns over privacy and safety. [9to5Mac]