That British Covid Tracking system

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The bet that I offered in a previous post on this subject is still open, but I’m guessing that I won’t get the sort of odds I’d have liked now after this story in the FT

The NHS has already begun building a second smartphone app to trace the spread of the coronavirus, after criticism of the first app it launched this week on the Isle of Wight. The second NHS app will use technology provided by Google and Apple and is being developed “in parallel”, in case politicians decide to make a switch, according to two people familiar with the situation.
The decision to build an alternative to the NHS’s original app, which gathers more data in a central database, came after pressure within the government over the technical and ethical issues of its initial approach.

One person involved said that talks with Apple and Google had intensified in the past few days, noting a sharp change of tack from last week to more “cordial and constructive” discussions “exploring how we might change course”.

I get the impression that the people running this project thought that they could build the app they wanted, and that Apple or Google would just go along with their demands. Make an exception to leave bluetooth running in the background for them. The problem is that these companies (and especially Apple) value things like user experience and privacy. Draining the battery is bad UX and Bluetooth being open is a security risk. Apple have a strong gatekeeping philosophy around their store.

So, apart from the global nature of the Apple/Google solution, it also meant their people could build the core, be in charge of switching on and off bluetooth. Their engineers doing it, so not going to include a bug that kills the phones. Even though it’s a global pandemic, they don’t want to trash their reputations.

And the government really had no power. They couldn’t force Apple to do it. So, Apple just said no. The app they delivered sucks, and they’re now having to go back to Apple asking for their help. And Apple and Google will.

So, weeks of delays, presumably millions wasted. Matthew Gould at NHSX will no doubt remain in his job, despite this incompetence.

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Leo Savantt
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Leo Savantt

To be fair to Gould, was he really the one who made the initial decision to develop and NHSX app from the ground up, or was that the brief he was instructed to follow, surreptitiously or otherwise?