There’s a massive error with UK’s contact-tracing coronavirus app


App may not have been sending out alerts correctly.
Photo: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The UK’s botched contact-tracing COVID app has run into its latest hurdle — this time the fact that thousands of people have been possibly exposed to coronavirus without being told that this is the case.

The reason for this is that the app used the wrong risk threshold to send out warnings. In essence, it assumed that people were too far away for transmission to be possible — even when they weren’t. As a result, “shockingly low” numbers of people received warnings.

The issue reportedly affects Android devices more than iPhones for some reason. Nonetheless, it’s another damaging screwup when it comes to the rollout of track-and-trace technology. The NHS app has reportedly been downloaded by more than 19 million people in a population of 67 million. However, if it’s not providing the right readings the total number does not matter since the results are unlikely to be accurate.

It is not clear what chain of events caused the threshold error to be made. Sky News reported:

“I understand that this software error had an incredibly human source. The risk threshold was meant to be changed before the launch but for some reason no-one one made the crucial update. For weeks, Test and Trace carried on as if the change had gone ahead.

Of course these things happen, but in the case of the app they have happened an awful lot. Two weeks after launch it had only sent one alert about a venue. Anyone asked to isolate by it still cannot claim income support even if they are entitled to it.”

Apparently in some cases, users were given correct warnings — only for the Department of Health to tell the recipients that they had been sent in error.

Troubled journey of NHS coronavirus app

The NHS app has had a troubled journey to this point. Initially its makers butted heads with Apple and Google over their contact-tracing API. This was over the issue of whether it should be a centralized or decentralized system. Apple and Google’s approach meant that users would be able to be alerted about possible coronavirus transmission in a privacy-centric way without granting governments the ability to do aggregate location tracking.

Eventually the UK flip-flopped on this and decided to use Apple and Google’s approach after all. The app eventually launched, months late, but seemingly with the glaring issue which has just come to light.

England recently announced that it will enter its second national lockdown — this means, among other things, that all Apple Stores in the country will be closed.

Source: Sky News


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