UK’s coronavirus tracing app could ask for location data

UK authorities are developing a coronavirus tracing app, and information regarding its functionality and design has recently come to light.

According to Matthew Gould, CEO of NHSX, future versions of the app could ask for users’ location data, the purpose of which is to learn more about how the virus is spread.

This, however, opens up the doors to a barrage of privacy and security concerns.

In the next week or two, the tracing app will be put to a field test in a small region.

Gould expects a wide rollout in two to three weeks.

He also emphasised the importance of communicating with the public and highlighting the role of the app in the battle against the coronavirus.

The future versions of the app could ask for the user’s location, allowing epidemiologists to pinpoint the infection hot spots.

Gould assures us that location sharing would be voluntary.

Revealing the location where a potential transmission had taken place due to close proximity would allow us to identify places that could be repeatedly problematic in this regard.

This, however, depends on people’s willingness to take part.

Without it, the authorities will only have the anonymised proximity data to work with, but not the location, and the basic version of the app comes without the location-tracking functionality.

Instead, it uses Bluetooth – when two mobile phones come into close proximity, they exchange pseudo-anonymous identifiers that are used in calculating the potential risk of infection based on the individual’s contacts.

The UK has opted to use a centralised model for contacts tracing, quite unlike the majority of European countries.

France will be taking a similar route – however, countries such as Switzerland, Estonia and Spain will rely on decentralised apps, meaning that the risk calculations will be performed locally on the device without uploading data to a central authority.