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In a massive U-turn, UK government will now use Google-Apple tech for COVID-19 tracing app

Despite plans to go it alone, followed by bungled attempts to make their own COVID-19 tracing app, the UK government has made a massive U-turn and will now switch to the Google-Apple tech for contact tracing.

The UK government had already built a rudimentary COVID-19 contact tracing app, which had a brief trial on the Isle of Wight. However, that, like many recent government policies have proved to be an utter waste of time and resources — leading to a “plug-pull” in favor of an actually usable method.

For the privacy-conscious, the Google-Apple model is a big win but we’ll still have to wait until at least Autumn according to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock. An official government announcement confirmed that the NHS COVID-19 tracing app will utilize the Google-Apple framework after “rigorous” testing on the Isle of Wight.

As a result of our work, we will now be taking forward a solution that brings together the work on our app and the Google/Apple solution. This is an important step, allowing us to develop an app that will bring together the functionality required to carry out contact tracing, but also making it easy to order tests, and access proactive advice and guidance to aid self-isolation.

Clearly, things didn’t pan out well for the tracing app testing phase. Using the undoubted talent pool at the disposal of Google and Apple was something that should have been done from the very start but, alas, it has cost the UK government weeks — and potentially thousands of lives — to realize this.

The BBC reports that the COVID-19 tracing app testing the Isle of Wight by the UK government was only able to register 4% of iPhones, although managed 75% of Android phones. Now for the kicker, the Google-Apple APIs working together meant that 99% of iOS and Android devices were logged — albeit with slightly weaker distance calculations.

Hancock decided to put the blame on Apple, claiming that third-party usage of Bluetooth meant that the UK-developed tracing app failed. So while we are seeing COVID-19 tracing apps rollout across mainland Europe and the rest of the planet, the UK has to hang tight a while longer. Given the way the COVID-19 pandemic has been dealt with so far, expect more problems to come.

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Avatar for Damien Wilde Damien Wilde

Damien is a UK-based video producer for 9to5Google. Find him on Twitter @iamdamienwilde. Email

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