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IT pros slam effectiveness of UK Covid-19 contact tracing app

Written by Tue 19 May 2020

Downing street plans to launch app across UK in coming weeks

Less than a quarter of IT experts believe the UK’s coronavirus contact tracing app will be effective, according to a survey.

Just under half (45 percent) said they were undecided about it, while almost a third (32 percent) believe the tool will not be useful in helping to contain Covid-19.

The app is currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight as part of the Government’s “test, track and trace” strategy to ease the country out of lockdown.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock had indicated that a roll-out across the rest of England was on the cards for mid-May, but Downing Street has said the aim is to launch more widely in the “coming weeks”.

The survey of some 1716 IT professionals, conducted by BCS (British Computer Society) the Chartered Institute for IT, puts data security as the top concern at 69 percent, followed by privacy (67 percent).

Four in 10 (42 percent) suggested they would be willing to download the app for themselves, but 36 percent said they would not and the other 21 percent remain undecided.

Half of those surveyed said they would have preferred the Apple and Google approach, using a decentralised method keeping data between smartphones and not on a central database.

The decentralised model is being adopted by a number of countries across the world, but the UK has decided to go for a centralised approach, meaning a computer will receive data when the individual chooses to share it – a decision which is only favoured by 23 percent in the survey.

“BCS is clear that if done ethically and competently a tracing app can make a huge contribution to stopping the spread of Covid-19,” said Dr Bill Mitchell, director of policy at the BCS.

“But a majority of our members don’t believe the current model will work and are worried about the reliance on a centralised database.

“It feels like there is a lot of goodwill out there to give a tracing app a chance – if it can be shown to work.

“That means if these concerns are fully addressed then maybe over 60 percent of the population will install a high quality app.

“That’s the magic adoption figure we need for the app to have real impact on stopping Covid-19.

“The Government will need to work hard to convince people that ‘ethical by design, correct by design, and privacy by default’ values are baked into the app to get the download numbers it is aiming for.”

Written by Tue 19 May 2020


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