UK ditches COVID-19 app model to use Google-Apple system

By Alistair Smout
LONDON (Reuters) - The UK announced on Thursday that it would switch to Apple <AAPL.O> and Google <togetL.O> for its test and trace app, turning its current system around the problematic program.
The test and trace program is seen as a key measure for the country's reopening, but has also been criticized after the nationwide launch of a smartphone app developed by the National Health Service (NHS) last month towards the end of the year.
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Apple and Google have spoken to the UK about the technology that uses a decentralized model. The companies have prevented authorities using their technology from collecting GPS location data or requiring users to enter personal data.
Those who ran the program admitted that the change in approach was unplanned, but denied that it was a setback and stressed that they did not want to release an app that did not meet the standards.
The Apple and Google model has sparked interest in over 20 countries, although some of the restrictions they have imposed have frustrated governments as the world's two leading smartphone manufacturers undermine the usefulness of the technology by prioritizing user privacy.
The current British app is being tested on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, where it has proven to be good on Google's Android operating systems, but not on Apple iPhones.
The ministers admitted technical problems with the app, which meant that it was not ready in time for the start of the English test and trace system on May 28th.
James Bethell, a junior health minister, said on Wednesday about the app that the government wanted to "get something going for the winter," but it wasn't a priority.
Britain's adoption of this "decentralized" approach would correspond to a growing number of European countries, including Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Kate Holton / Guy Faulconbridge)

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