The new app designed to track people’s encounters and to warn them if they’ve come into contact with someone infected with the flu is not working properly.
Fears were raised today that the new NHS coronavirus contact tracing app only ‘half-works’ on iPhones after experts claimed it can only effectively operate on the devices if the screen is unlocked.
The ‘NHS Covid-19’ app is a key piece in the UK Government’s plan to get the country out of lockdown and back to work and will need at least 60 per cent of the nation to download it for it to be effective.
But residents on the Isle of Wight take part in the trial claimed it drained their phone’s battery life and was only working if the screen is unlocked – because iPhones can do nothing but ‘listen’ to other devices when locked.
Dr Michael Veale, a lecturer in digital rights and regulation at University College London, told MailOnline that the app ‘only half-works on iPhones’.
He added: ‘This is because the UK has decided, unlike countries such as Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Estonia and more, to not use the new decentralised building blocks Apple provides in its new iOS 13.5 operating system next week.
Pictured: the new building blocks Apple provides in its new iOS 13.5 OS.
‘In particular, iPhones are only able to ‘listen’ when they are locked, and not to reach out to other phones. To talk to another phone and register a contact, they need a phone that can reach out to prod them and ‘wake’ them up, or they won’t spot them.
‘When two iPhones users are together, as they are both only listening, no contact will be made or recorded. It is only if there is a nearby Android phone present that the phones can be nudged to ‘wake up’.’
The same issue was faced by Singapore, which was the first country to try a contact tracing app. TraceTogether gained only a 20 per cent uptake with many users finding their iPhone had to be unlocked for it to work properly.
Another technology expert, Timandra Harkness, author of Big Data: Does Size Matter?, told the New Statesman that the app ‘wouldn’t work with the phone locked or while you are using it for anything else’.
She added that a friend in Singapore found this to be an issue on the TraceTogether app, which meant that ‘you have to leave it on and … ‘upside down’ in your pocket to go into Low Power mode.’
If a person with the app reports Covid-19 symptoms, a risk score for an interaction is calculated based on the distance between devices, how long they were in contact for and the infectiousness of the person at the time.
It comes as the Scottish government dealt a potential hammer blow to Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s app after saying it will only commit to the technology if it is shown to work and is secure.
Nicola Sturgeon has said she is ‘cautious’ about the app and has stressed Scotland’s approach to stopping the spread of the disease will be more ‘old fashioned’. Meanwhile, Professor Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, said he will only download the app ‘once I’m confident that it works’ and the ‘security is good’.
Separately, it emerged that London-based artificial intelligence company Faculty which is involved with the development of the app was hired to work with Dominic Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign.
Yeah, no. That isn’t “half” working. It’s not working, at all.
If phones need to be unlocked in order for the app to work, then the whole purpose of the app is defeated.
The question now is, how can experts be so wrong about so many things? On the one hand you have the virus experts talking about how deadly this virus is while virtually every single piece of data is proving them wrong, and on the other hand you have these app-developing experts not being able to predict that the app wouldn’t work on iPhones.
Are these even experts? Because if they are, one has to try really hard in order to not suspect that they’re doing all of this on purpose.
“Oh, we don’t want to drain your phone’s battery and the app is hard to make work properly under the current phone technology, so we’ll just go ahead and make a new device for you.”