NHS Already Working on Second Contact Tracing App Using Apple’s Exposure Notification API

Apple and Google have teamed up to launch an official contact tracing API that can be used by public health authorities to create an official contact tracing app for their country. However, many countries are not happy with Apple’s decentralized approach to storing data and have created their own app without the API. However, all these apps are going to run into issues due to the restrictions in iOS as the Australian and the UK government are realizing now.

Australia’s COVIDSafe app is not working properly on iPhones as it requires that users open it periodically so as to prevent it from getting killed in the background. The NHS in the UK also released its contact tracing app recently in the Isle of Wight this week. Since release, the app has been downloaded by over 40,000 people. Like Australia’s COVIDSafe, the NHS app also does not make use of the exposure notification API from Apple and it takes a centralized approach to save data.

While a test from a cyber-security company Pen Test Partners points to the NHS app working mostly fine on iPhones, the health body is already developing a second app that will use Apple’s exposure notification API. The app is being developed “in parallel” just in case the UK government decides to make the switch due to the mounting pressure from within on the ethical and technical issues. Germany has already made the switch to developing its contact tracing app using the API from Apple so as to avoid further issues.

The entire problem for contact tracing apps that do not use the official exposure notification API from Apple and Google is that they stop working in the background on the iPhone after a period of time. This is due to a restriction in iOS that does not allow apps to log Bluetooth data in the background. Realizing the issue, Apple teamed up with Google to work on a cross-compatible exposure notification API that solves this issue. However, Apple has taken a decentralized approach to saving any collected data for privacy reasons, though many countries are not on board with this as they believe it reduces the cross-border effectiveness of contact tracing.

Apple has released released the exposure notification API as a part of the iOS 13.5 beta 3 along with the relevant tools for developers to build a contact tracing app. The final version of the API will be released with the final release of iOS 13.5 which is likely due next week.

[Via Financial Times]