NHS App Faces Problems in Trial While Officials Confirm a Replacement Could Be on the Way

By Shabana Arif on at

The NHS contact tracing app that we're not a fan of here at Giz UK because it sounds like a joke, is one, as it turns out. Although it's clearly been heading that way since its inception, and the Isle of Wight trial has done nothing but back that up.

The app was first tested at an RAF base, then on the Isle of Wight last week on an opt-in basis. It was downloaded by 50,000 of the island's 141,000 residents, and is a pile of hairy bollocks, based on the feedback.

A number of issues have already been reported, with some residents receiving multiple contact alerts during the night when they hadn't left the house. As well as issues downloading the app, it's been a noticeable drain on smartphone batteries - as expected, and contrary to what health secretary Matt Hancock said - and fails to function on Android phones that are more than three years old.

All of this is in addition to concerns that the app is possibly in breach of human rights and data protection laws, and has failed basic tests around security and safety, according to NHS staff familiar with the project. NHSX (the digital arm of the NHS responsible for developing the app) also opted for a centralised app as opposed to Apple and Google's API which is a huge security issue, as well as affecting the apps functionality, because it doesn't have access to the suite of tools the API offers.

Last week, it was reported that the NHS was investigating switching the API, although communities secretary Robert Jenrick told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show he wasn't aware of a second app being worked on. Jenrick did say that if the app needed to be changed, that would be done without a fuss as the point is to get a functioning app that does its job properly:

"We are learning lessons from other apps and if we need to change our app we will do. That’s the point of piloting it before we roll it out nationally...

"As far as I’m aware we’re not developing a second app but we are paying attention to the other apps that exist elsewhere in the world. And if we need to adapt our app or move to a different model, obviously we will do.

With lockdown restrictions being eased this week it's likely that the government will roll out the app to keep tabs on everyone and not protect their data at all, so as long as it remains opt-in and a massive privacy and security risk, we'll give it a miss and stay home instead. If you can't do that, wash your hands, don't touch your face, and wear a mask - you can even make your own. [Financial Times]

Feature image: Unsplash