KEY POINTS

  • Apple and Google are proposing a contact-tracing method aimed at monitoring the spread of COVID-19
  • The U.K. has rejected Apple and Google's proposal of a decentralized system
  • It is pushing for a centralized contact-tracing system instead

COVID-19 has affected the world so much that tech giants and app makers are now working on contact-tracing apps meant to help keep track of those who are infected with it so that people can be alerted of any potential contamination. 

According to MacRumors, rival tech giants Apple and Google have partnered with each other in an effort to build a contact-tracing solution that will keep track of people's movements, and help alert those who may have come in contact with someone who's positive with COVID-19. Despite the potential solution's benefits, however, the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) is rejecting it.

According to a report from BBC, the NHS is working on a contact-tracing app that uses a different model than the one being used by Apple and Google. The NHS says it has a way to make its app work “sufficiently well” on iPhones even if the user doesn't launch it or let it run on the screen.

A comparison

For comparison, here's a quick look at how Apple and Google's solution works, and how the NHS's app differs from it.

Apple and Google have proposed a decentralised way of monitoring smartphone users, particularly who they might have in contact with. In this model, key codes are exchanged from smartphones whenever two persons meet. If person one becomes infected, he is required to indicate that in his status on the app, and must give his consent to share his key code to a database.

The smartphone belonging to person two in that scenario above will keep downloading key codes from the database to keep matching codes. If person two's smartphone downloads a key belonging to person one, he will be alerted that he has been near a person who has been tested positive.

All of these processes happen without the need for a centralized server. The NHS's app, on the other hand, makes use of a computer server, and is thus centralized.

Why centralize the process?

The NHSX, the health service's digital innovation unit, believes that by centralizing the system, it will be able to gain more insight as to COVID-19's spread. This will then allow the NHS to update or enhance the app as needed.

“The principal aim is to give notifications to people who are most at risk of having got infected, and not to people who are much lower risk,” Prof Christophe Fraser, one of the epidemiologists advising NHSX, told BBC. “It's probably easier to do that with a centralised system.”

coronavirus stay-at-home orders may be taking a toll on your kids coronavirus stay-at-home orders may be taking a toll on your kids Photo: Kelly Sikkema - Unsplash