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Source: United Kingdom – Science Media Centre

The Government have released more details of the NHS contact tracing app.

Dr Peter Bannister, Biomedical Engineer & Executive Chair, Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), said:

“While there are privacy advantages to a decentralised approach which only requires limited amounts of data to be passed from one handset to another, the success of any chosen approach will depend more on its transparent implementation and levels of adoption.

“Studies [WSJ, Rock Health/ Stanford University] have consistently shown that the public is equally reluctant to share data with governments as with large multinationals (such as Apple and Google) and yet these are the only organizations capable of delivering a solution which can help us manage and ultimately overcome the disease.

“Certainly if a centralised approach is implemented using existing data protection and security standards, it can offer a number of advantages, such as the ability to update all contacts in the system if a symptomatic individual is subsequently tested and found to not have had the virus.

“In addition, access to population data can enable more sophisticated analysis – including approaches which have not yet been devised.  However this aspect means that use of data and overall trust in the chosen implementation is critical to convincing the public to participate.

“App-based contact tracing is only an effective tool if a significant proportion of the population take part which is why perhaps the most important outcome of the Isle of Wight trial will be the number of people who chose to participate.  Ultimately this may prove to be the best indicator of the scheme’s benefit when it is rolled out across the whole country.”


Prof Dame Til Wykes, Vice Dean Psychology and Systems Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, said:

“The key issues on whether a contact tracing App would be acceptable are answers to questions like – who has the data, where will it be sent and what security there is.  Most data is now encrypted on the phone but will the government or anyone who holds the data be able to de-identify it?  What information is uploaded as phone data can be added to other data, such as IP addresses, so that the anonymity of the user is then not protected.  GPS signals also concentrate on the person’s home that clearly means identification of the household, if not the individual.  We are told that until you have symptoms then – and only then – will information be sent to the server.

“Transparency is vital – privacy notices are often written in legalese so simple language with a clear message is essential.  The NHS has assured us that not only will there be oversight with an ethics committee but that all the information including the underlying code will be available.  This is a great step forward in app development and something we would not have expected if it had been a commercial company.

“Holding data centrally means it’s possible to use the big data collected to understand issues like how many minutes is necessary to be in contact in order to investigate the virus transmission.

“Finally no matter how supportive we think the app will be, we also need to how useful it is.  We need to see the benefit so information on the Isle of Wight experiment is vital and at each stage needs to be available to the public.

“The NHS is a trusted source but some people will be suspicious even if they feel this is a protection for them and the community.  This is a test of a social contract with the NHS and government and I hope they don’t let us down.”



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