Apple and Google prep second phase of contact tracing app roll-out

Apple and Google are readying the roll-out of the second phase two of their Coronavirus contact tracing system, allowing users to receive notifications about their exposure to the virus without needing to install a specific app.

However, the system will not fully work here until the UK government releases its own contact tracing app nationally.

Until now, the US tech giants have required users to download an app made by a recognised public health authority to enable the exposure notification system.

When new versions of iOS and Android are made available - expected to be in the next two weeks - users will be able to join an exposure notification system without needing to download any app – although they will still need a recognised public health authority app to mark themselves as infectious.

This puts pressure on the UK government to move its own app out of beta testing in the Isle of Wight and the London Borough of Newham, and into production.

The government u-turned on its official NHS contact tracing app, moving to a model based on technology provided by Apple and Google in June.

The previous centralised design carried out the contact-matches on a remote server, while the decentralised Apple/Google model carries the process out on the mobile, making it more difficult for the authorities or hackers to de-anonymise the records and use them for other means. This design has been promoted as being more privacy-focused, but could give epidemiologists access to less data.

Apple is expected to launch iOS 14 in early October, alongside new iPhones and several major changes to how the phones work, including a new privacy-preserving system that allows users to prevent tracking from advertisers.

Facebook warned advertisers that the introduction of this privacy option was likely to lead to “more than 50 per cent drop in publisher revenue”, with the social network’s ability to deliver targeted ads being limited.

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