NHS working on a COVID-19 surveillance app

Anne Freier | April 6, 2020

App Business

The National Health Service (NHS) UK is reportedly working on its own app that could trace people with COVID-19 to monitor the spread of the disease.

The app has been developed by the digital arm of the NHS (NHSX) and could be launched over the coming weeks.

However, it would require 60% of the population to sign up and register their symptoms and test results in order for the app to reach its intended outcome. In other words, whether the spread of the pandemic can be successfully monitored depends on the public’s compliance and desire to allow their locations to be traced.

The app works by using a person’s location data and then logging proximity to another user via Bluetooth. If a user reports symptoms, their proximity to others could be monitored.

Although well-intended the app raised serious security and privacy concerns because its based on surveillance. However, the researchers who developed the app have argued that such surveillance has been successful in China where users receive a green or red app alert depending on whether they’re advised to self-isolate or not.

“We see it as the only alternative to applying isolation to the whole population,” said Professor David Bonsall, a researcher at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine. “We think it’s going to be a very important part of that strategy.”

“That’s where this concept of herd protection came from. You can protect the vulnerable people in society who may not have smartphones, and protect children. If enough adults across the population engage with the system and trust the system telling them they should isolate, you’re protecting all those individuals who don’t have a device.”

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