Google, Apple Team For App To ID Coronavirus Contact In UK

NHS, NHSX, Apple, Google, UK, mobile app, coronavirus, tracking, alerts, testing, social distancing

A mobile app to track the coronavirus is being developed by NHSX, the technology arm of Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), in coordination with Google and Apple, according to numerous reports on Sunday (April 12).

The NHS app would use Bluetooth technology to enable mobile phone users to track people who have come into contact with the coronavirus and prompt them to get tested. Ministers said they were hopeful that a coronavirus alert app could make it possible to begin lifting the most rigid social distancing mandates, the Independent Times reported, citing senior sources. The app would use a phone’s location data to record where a user was in the past few days.

“If you become unwell with the symptoms of coronavirus, you can securely tell this new NHS app and the app will then send an alert anonymously to other app users that you’ve been in significant contact with over the past few days, even before you had symptoms so that they know and can act accordingly,” said Matt Hancock, health secretary, at the daily Downing Street press conference. 

Data from the app would be handled with “the highest ethical and security standards,” and used only for NHS care and research, Hancock said, adding “we won’t hold it any longer than it’s needed.” Hancock did not have a time frame for how long the app would take to launch.

“Any proposal on the use of mobile phone data or other technology to track people must also be scrutinized properly by MPs before a final decision is made, further strengthening our argument that Parliament should be recalled urgently,” said acting Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey.    

Apple and Google are also collaborating on their own to develop a new technology to track the spread of the coronavirus by using Bluetooth. Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a tweet on Friday (April 10) that the project would be done in a way that honors “transparency” and “consent.”