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England is developing a contact tracing app that uses Apple and Google's Exposure Notification API, and while there are still bugs to be worked out, it's set to be trialed in a few areas in the country starting tomorrow.

exposure-text-feature-centered-1.jpg

According to the BBC, the app will be trialed on the Isle of Wight and in one other area with a volunteer group. The experiment is being launched quietly as there's no word on when a formal national rollout might happen.

Even as the app enters a trial period, engineers are struggling to address a problem with Bluetooth distance calculations. Apparently the app wrongly flags people of being within 6.6 feet of one another when they're not, which could lead to people quarantining when they don't need to.

Apple and Google do not provide raw Bluetooth signal strength data to app developers to better protect user privacy. Multiple countries have asked for relaxed restrictions.
Part of the problem with the Apple-Google framework is that the tech firms have decided that developers should not get access to raw attenuation data - a measure of changes in Bluetooth signal strength.

Instead, it provides a more basic set of readings that an app can use to calculate its own risk scores - the idea being that this helps preserve users' anonymity.

But one consequence of this, is that engineers have not been able to take advantage of a technique developed by researchers at the UK's Turing Institute and the University of Oxford. It filters the data to give a better indication of proximity.
England's app engineers are hoping to be able to improve accuracy to a degree that will be usable by the end of the year.

As with other Exposure Notification solutions, the app will use Bluetooth to determine when two people come into contact with one another to track possible coronavirus exposures. If a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, the app allows them to notify all of the people they've been in contact with, cutting down on the spread of the virus.

The app England is developing will also ask users to scan a QR code when entering properties as a way to later alert them if they've visited a location linked to multiple infections.

The UK did not initially plan to use Apple and Google's Exposure Notification API and was instead pursuing a different approach, but a June report suggested the National Health Service had changed its mind and was working on an app using the Apple/Google API.

The original app was hobbled by restrictions that Apple imposes on Bluetooth apps, which would have prevented an app that doesn't use the Exposure Notification API from accessing Bluetooth in the background. Because Bluetooth was not continually available, the app that was initially in development only detected four percent of iPhones in situations where the app was asleep and the two devices involved had not been recently used.

Note: Due to the political or social nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Article Link: England's Exposure Notification App Entering Trials as Engineers Work Out Bugs
 
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mazz0

macrumors 68030
Mar 23, 2011
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but a June report suggested the National Health Service had changed its mind
My understanding was that it was NHSX devloping the app, not the NHS, NSHX being a completely different government unit. Is that not right?

So, are Wales, Scotland and NI gonna have each a different Exposure App?
I think it’s a devolved thing, although I thought Wales would be grouped with England on this, possibly NI too, with just Scotland going there own way? Don’t quote me on that though.

I don’t know how on earth they thought the initially planned version was going to work. One word with even a fairly inexperienced iOS developer would have told them it was a no-starter. Utter incompetence, who’d have thought it.
 

ruka.snow

macrumors 68000
Jun 6, 2017
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Scotland
Why on Earth can’t someone (e.g. Apple) develop an app that can be used in any country? What does the England app do that is so unique? I live in England but I’m on holiday in Scotland just now. That‘s a spanner in the works.

The general idea is we aren’t expecting people to travel to another country during a global pandemic for a holiday that could wait a year. And the API works across apps for those that live and work at borders.
 

Internet Enzyme

macrumors 6502a
Feb 21, 2016
988
1,704


England is developing a contact tracing app that uses Apple and Google's Exposure Notification API, and while there are still bugs to be worked out, it's set to be trialed in a few areas in the country starting tomorrow.

exposure-text-feature-centered-1.jpg

According to the BBC, the app will be trialed on the Isle of Wight and in one other area with a volunteer group. The experiment is being launched quietly as there's no word on when a formal national rollout might happen.

Even as the app enters a trial period, engineers are struggling to address a problem with Bluetooth distance calculations. Apparently the app wrongly flags people of being within 6.6 feet of one another when they're not, which could lead to people quarantining when they don't need to.

Apple and Google do not provide raw Bluetooth signal strength data to app developers to better protect user privacy. Multiple countries have asked for relaxed restrictions.England's app engineers are hoping to be able to improve accuracy to a degree that will be usable by the end of the year.

As with other Exposure Notification solutions, the app will use Bluetooth to determine when two people come into contact with one another to track possible coronavirus exposures. If a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, the app allows them to notify all of the people they've been in contact with, cutting down on the spread of the virus.

The app England is developing will also ask users to scan a QR code when entering properties as a way to later alert them if they've visited a location linked to multiple infections.

The UK did not initially plan to use Apple and Google's Exposure Notification API and was instead pursuing a different approach, but a June report suggested the National Health Service had changed its mind and was working on an app using the Apple/Google API.

The original app was hobbled by restrictions that Apple imposes on Bluetooth apps, which would have prevented an app that doesn't use the Exposure Notification API from accessing Bluetooth in the background. Because Bluetooth was not continually available, the app that was initially in development only detected four percent of iPhones in situations where the app was asleep and the two devices involved had not been recently used.

Note: Due to the political or social nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Article Link: England's Exposure Notification App Entering Trials as Engineers Work Out Bugs

What i dont get about this api is how its efficacy is entirely reliant on being reimplemented a million times everywhere. Each country or state or municipality is building their own disparate app with its whole own ui from scratch just to talk to this api. It probably has to do with varying regulations, but it is absurd and it means that a large portion of the world, if not the majority, will get an app either far too late, or simply will never get one at all, as it requires countries to actually invest in modern technology and infrastructure that supports their people, something most legislatures in the US are too archaic for.
 
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ruka.snow

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Jun 6, 2017
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What i dont get about this api is how its efficacy is entirely reliant on being reimplemented a million times everywhere. Each country or state or municipality is building their own disparate app with its whole own ui from scratch just to talk to this api. It probably has to do with varying regulations, but it is absurd and it means that a large portion of the world, if not the majority, will get an app either far too late, or simply will never get one at all, as it requires countries to actually invest in modern technology and infrastructure that supports their people, something most legislatures in the US are too archaic for.

I think there are some PII and national security issues there, preserved or otherwise. And you would put the hundreds of languages on one developer. In Scotland alone we need English and Gaelic and potentially Polish and a few others minor languages. How do you get people to install an app that may or may not be sending data for an external power? Even in the EU we aren't going get people to trust a app made in another member nation.
 

GadgetBen

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Jul 8, 2015
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The app devlopers are spot on. I’ve dealt with vague API variables before and you can’t tell someone to self isolate if you are only relying on a watered down version of Bluetooth distance data.
 

weckart

macrumors 603
Nov 7, 2004
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Why on Earth can’t someone (e.g. Apple) develop an app that can be used in any country? What does the England app do that is so unique? I live in England but I’m on holiday in Scotland just now. That‘s a spanner in the works.

Privacy issues for one. Some countries are really fussy about what you are allowed to track and what you can't. For one, privacy is the reason there are problems in getting correct proximity from Apple's BT API and why Apple does not want to yield on it. There isn't enough consistency for something like this across all the legislatures of the world to be captured in one monolithic app and I doubt Apple wants to be on the hook for any possible deficiencies these apps may eventually reveal. That is the responsibility of elected governments.

As for any tracking app, the health services are devolved in the UK with each of NI, England, Scotland and Wales responsible for its own health service and its reporting of Covid statistics (England does it differently from the rest). This will also cover any possible Covid app.
 

itsmilo

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Sep 15, 2016
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i have had the german version installed for a while on my iPhone now and i honestly wonder how many people actually upload their positive test results (yes, you actually have to do that manually in many cases because a lot of health offices (?) are not up to the digital times yet and cannot provide you with a simple QR-Code)
 

cmwade77

macrumors 65816
Nov 18, 2008
1,068
1,197
How about this: I don't even want the API on my phone, seriously, this is a dangerous slippery slope to head down, granted I am coming at this from a U.S. perspective, but this is a bad, bad idea that invades privacy in the worst possible way with what will be the worst possible outcomes.
 

CarlJ

Contributor
Feb 23, 2004
5,599
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San Diego, CA, USA
Why on Earth can’t someone (e.g. Apple) develop an app that can be used in any country? What does the England app do that is so unique?
Because the app needs to tie in to the reporting/health agency for the country in question. Said agency is responsible for coordinating with the testing labs to hand out one-time-use verification codes to those who test positive. Those patients then use that code to tell the app that they tested positive. If this step wasn't there, then a wide variety of idiots would report themselves as testing positive, either accidentally, or on purpose “to see what would happen” (plus imagine all the YouTube/IG influencers who would be doing it so they could post “this is what it looks like”), and there would be a contingent of special idiots falsely reporting positive just to **** with the system.

So there needs to be a system for handing out codes that needs to be tied in with the testing labs and the agency that authorizes those testing labs to operate. Thus, a national or state government agency. Thus, the need for country-specific apps. The agency in any given region also probably maintains the database of anonymous identifiers that corresponds to people who have tested positive (by design, there isn’t anything in this database that can be used to identify or track individuals). These databases could be shared/combined between nearby countries, to improve cross-border effectiveness, but the apps still need to tie to a specific government.

Unless you’re suggesting that Apple get into the global healthcare administration business, there’s no way to have one app that works for everyone.
 

CarlJ

Contributor
Feb 23, 2004
5,599
9,834
San Diego, CA, USA
How about this: I don't even want the API on my phone, seriously, this is a dangerous slippery slope to head down, granted I am coming at this from a U.S. perspective, but this is a bad, bad idea that invades privacy in the worst possible way with what will be the worst possible outcomes.
Go read the damn spec. Tell us how the information that is actually collected (not what you fantasize is collected) could possibly be abused. Your fears are paranoia, not based on the actual design.

Carrying your phone around right now, today, with it constantly checking in with the nearest cell towers, is already giving any three-letter agency that’s sufficiently motivated to care about your whereabouts, all sorts of information about where you’ve been and when.
 

C DM

macrumors Sandy Bridge
Oct 17, 2011
51,388
19,449
How about this: I don't even want the API on my phone, seriously, this is a dangerous slippery slope to head down, granted I am coming at this from a U.S. perspective, but this is a bad, bad idea that invades privacy in the worst possible way with what will be the worst possible outcomes.
The details of the implementation seem to show that there really isn't something that invades privacy. It's also something the can be enabled/disabled by the end user.
 

manu chao

macrumors 604
Jul 30, 2003
7,172
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What i dont get about this api is how its efficacy is entirely reliant on being reimplemented a million times everywhere. Each country or state or municipality is building their own disparate app with its whole own ui from scratch just to talk to this api. It probably has to do with varying regulations, but it is absurd and it means that a large portion of the world, if not the majority, will get an app either far too late, or simply will never get one at all, as it requires countries to actually invest in modern technology and infrastructure that supports their people, something most legislatures in the US are too archaic for.
Several countries have made their app open-source. Others would be free to use that code.

There is one reason that easily could require noticeable modifications per country. National health authorities are the ones overseeing the labs doing the COVID-19 tests using different IT and organizational infrastructure as to how patient data is handled and how the results are reported from lab to doctor and/or patient and to the health authority. This infrastructure has to interface with the app such that the app can check with the health authorities whether a patient wanting to report a positive test result actually has been tested positive. In a lot of countries, this works via some kind of code (could be a QR code) that a lab generates and sends to the patient (directly or via a doctor or hospital) and then the app verifies that code using a server operated by the national health authority.

Additionally, there is the server those user-reported positive tests send their random IDs and which all the other users via the app check a couple of times per day. That part could be standardized more easily as it is only a communication between the app and the server. But different countries might have different data protection standards such that there a legal requirements for such a server (which is why each country operates its own server though the plan is that regionally there could be exchanges of data between the servers of individual countries, not sure how far the implementation of that has progressed).

Last but not least, many countries would like to add additional functionality to the app (like self-reporting symptoms). That doesn't have to be part of the exposure notification app but there are synergies and it is easier to the tell the public to install just one app for all COVID-19 related questions.

Ideally, such apps would be modular with Apple and Google providing the bare bones functionality with individual countries then adding their customisations on top. But this a fast-moving situation and countries that had their **** together could move faster with the current approach then waiting for some international agreement how such a modular app should work.
 

manu chao

macrumors 604
Jul 30, 2003
7,172
2,993
How about this: I don't even want the API on my phone, seriously, this is a dangerous slippery slope to head down, granted I am coming at this from a U.S. perspective, but this is a bad, bad idea that invades privacy in the worst possible way with what will be the worst possible outcomes.
Have you removed the GPS chip from your phone? Or have you protested equally vocally about the inclusion of APIs that allow third-party apps to access your location data?

Why is having an API that enables constant tracking of your location not a problem?
 

manu chao

macrumors 604
Jul 30, 2003
7,172
2,993
The app devlopers are spot on. I’ve dealt with vague API variables before and you can’t tell someone to self isolate if you are only relying on a watered down version of Bluetooth distance data.
But you can tell them to get a test.
 
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SBlue1

macrumors 68000
Oct 17, 2008
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How about this: I don't even want the API on my phone, seriously, this is a dangerous slippery slope to head down, granted I am coming at this from a U.S. perspective, but this is a bad, bad idea that invades privacy in the worst possible way with what will be the worst possible outcomes.

Your english teacher must be so proud of your reading skills! LOL!
 

laz232

macrumors 6502a
Feb 4, 2016
671
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At a café near you
Why on Earth can’t someone (e.g. Apple) develop an app that can be used in any country? What does the England app do that is so unique? I live in England but I’m on holiday in Scotland just now. That‘s a spanner in the works.

Apple would not want to take on the legal responsibilities wrt health - and the technology divisions of the various health departments in the separate countries have their own vested bureaucratic interest to have their own teams work on the project... That's how bureaucracies work... (been there m, seen that in big tech companies)
 
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