The coronavirus pandemic is causing the UK government to look at using a cellphone app to help curb the spread of the virus after their country comes out of its lockdown.
If the UK goes ahead with the plan, they’ll join countries like South Korea and Singapore who have used mobile apps to aid the efforts to slow the rate of infection.
Its believed that NHSX, the innovation arm of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is partnering with Pivotal, which is a US-based company, to develop a tracking app.
The app could be released once the UK relaxes the current lockdown restrictions. Many countries have had to make a significant concession on personal freedoms by limiting citizens movement.
However, using cellphone apps to track citizens opens up another can of worms where privacy is concerned.
As much as we all want to do our part to flatten the curve of new infections letting the government track our every move sounds far too much like the start of almost every dystopian sci-fi film.
In order to combat the apparent privacy concerns, the app is said to be opt-in. That means participation will be voluntary. It is hoped however that at least 50% of the country’s population will, in fact, opt-in.
Bluetooth instead of GPS
According to reports, the UK are also considering using Bluetooth technology to help track and trace efforts for people who have been in contact with someone who tests positive for the virus.
Using Bluetooth instead of GPS data would help resolve at least some of the privacy concerns. With Bluetooth, the app would be able to keep track of which phones also running the app have been in close proximity.
This will make it a lot easier to inform people who may unwittingly have interacted with someone who later tests positive for the coronavirus. This will also mean that the government will not have a complete record of your comings and goings.
Tracking of phones in South Africa
Over in South Africa, the government has, according to their statements, been using information from cellphone companies to try and do similar contact tracing.
They have specifically mentioned this kind of contact tracing in cases like that of a resident who fled a province after testing positive.
The government have not been very transparent about what this entails and exactly what data they would use.
An app too far?
Getting a knock on the door by government employees because my cellphone data placed me in the same area as someone who tested positive for coronavirus, while helpful, seems overly invasive from a personal privacy point of view.