Will anyone let me bet my house and pension on this
The UK’s coronavirus contact-tracing app is set to use a different model to the one proposed by Apple and Google, despite concerns raised about privacy and performance.
It has opted for a “centralised model” to achieve this – meaning that the matching process, which works out which phones to send alerts to – happens on a computer server.
This contrasts with Apple and Google’s “decentralised” approach – where the matches take place on users’ handsets.
The tech giants believe their effort provides more privacy, as it limits the ability of either the authorities or a hacker to use the computer server logs to track specific individuals and identify their social interactions.
But NHSX believes a centralised system will give it more insight into Covid-19’s spread, and therefore how to evolve the app accordingly.
I’m not really sure what this needs to do beyond what it already does which is tracing and notifying people. Knowing all the cross-matches in a centralised database might tell you number of contacts between people, but so what? How does that make the app better beyond some vague “well, it might”.
The big problem for me is something I try and stress to people which is that if a company like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple or Amazon have already built a service, and you can make it fit what you need, use it. These guys are very good at building huge scale services and keeping them running 24×7. It’ll be better than what you build, more secure than what you can make it and cheaper.
The NHS aren’t. These are people that threw £12bn at a computer system that delivered nothing. These are the people still running on Windows 7 in some places despite it being end-of-life. They’ve had downtime in trusts for days. And they’ve never built systems that handle up to millions of transactions per day, like this will. Are the contractors they use for this going to have the sort of test setups that this requires? They have to design server infrastructure for storage, design and build databases, APIs, as well as the thing that is required with Google/Amazon which the phone app.
I’ll be surprised if this is fully working and useful before this is all over.