With the world waging war still against “the invisible enemy,” the UK says it won’t use Google and Apple’s solution for contact tracing.
The UK says it will go its own route with regarding to data-gathering and analysis for its national citizens. The NHSX has created its own solution involving Bluetooth with the help of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre. The new solution is centralized, with information going to a computer server. The computer server in question is unknown, though it’s likely the information will stay native to the UK.
Why the UK contact tracing solution is independent of Google and Apple
Some wonder, with Google and Apple creating a cross-platform solution with security and privacy, why the UK will go on its own. The answers are simple, really. First, all other countries have created their own national solutions. China has at least two apps that trace contacts: TraceTogether (Singapore) and Close Contact Detector. These two apps are specifically for Chinese phone users, not the entire world.
And, more recently, Australia has created its own contact tracing technology, an app called COVIDSafe that racked up 1 million downloads within a 5-hour period. It’s a sign that people want to remain safe in this pandemic. And yet, for Australia, it’s an app designed for the country’s citizens, not the rest of the world.
A number of countries are making apps for their citizens, not the world. And what seems reasonable for a number of countries is reasonable for the United Kingdom.
Google and Apple: American entities, American access
Here’s the part of the UK’s thinking that some would find honest: Google and Apple represent American entities. Whether Google and Apple can face it or not, other countries don’t want the US meddling in their national databases or information for their citizens. Though the US doesn’t like Huawei’s loyalty to Beijing, it demands honesty from Google and Apple in the same manner. Should the Federal Government request access to user data, even regarding foreign citizens, Google and Apple would have little choice but to comply.
Take the new Australian COVIDSafe, for example. It is for Australian citizens only but the information ends up on Amazon servers. Amazon, the American online retailer, will have some measure of access to Australian user data. Can Amazon guarantee Australia that the data its servers store won’t make its way to the White House? No, it can’t. And perhaps it is this potentially “leaky” access to America that the United Kingdom intends to avoid.
Google and Apple say their contact tracing solution will honor privacy and destruct once the pandemic ends (as all new solutions are claiming). And yet, the UK may not be able to provide anonymity for its citizens with a solution that America can access. Anonymous user data may not be all that anonymous if America’s hand is in it. Whether the UK has justification for its claim remains to be seen, but at least a national solution for its users would give it control to data that Google and Apple may not.
Knowing Google and Apple, the UK will not have access to their data. This makes the case for a UK governmental solution for UK citizens.