Many in the United Kingdom are raising concerns over the long-term consequences of developing a nationalized coronavirus tracing app.
Several computer security experts and privacy watchdogs have signed an open letter voicing their concerns about how the U.K. should handle the coronavirus pandemic.
This is the second open letter that has raised concerns over the tracing app. In total, 177 academics signed the new letter.
The main concern about the coronavirus contact tracing app is how it will treat user data and privacy. Academics have pushed for a more decentralized approach in developing this app.
The authors of the letter directed it to the NHSX, the digital arm of the National Health Service. They wrote:
“We urge that the health benefits of a digital solution should be analysed in depth by specialists from all relevant academic disciplines, and sufficiently proven to be of value to justify the dangers involved.”
Coronavirus contact tracing app development
The centralized server setup where data are stored into a single server is the most popular method many countries are using. This allows the government to easily pull a user data, trace their movements, and warn others about it.
— NHSX (@NHSX) April 24, 2020
The main concern about this centralized approach is that it has a single point of failure. In practice, this setup is putting user data at risk if hackers can get into the system.
With regards to privacy and data security, many are urging the U.K. government to develop a decentralized coronavirus contact tracing app. Moreover, people are calling for the government to be more transparent in how it handles user data.
NSHX CEO Matthew Gould is in favor of building a more centralized system, despite calls for otherwise. Privacy watchdogs are raising concerns that the government will use user data for other purposes once the pandemic is over.
How tech companies are responding
Regarding the role of tech companies, Apple and Google are partnering up to provide a solution to this. The tech giants are rolling out the app for on May 1.
Contrary to many government’s belief that a centralized system is more effective, Apple and Google are going on a different route. Furthermore, the two tech giants are building a decentralized platform where there is no single server.
As for Apple and Google’s app, they are building will store data locally on the user’s phone. This makes it hard to harvest user data. Only Germany has actively supported this approach. In contrast, he NHSX has rejected Apple and Google’s decentralized coronavirus tracing app.
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