COVID-19: Five Reasons Why NHSX Should Consider Switching to Decentralized Contact Tracing

J. Cordwell
Jonathan Cordwell – Principal Analyst, UK Health & Social Care Technology

A test version of NHSX’s new COVID-19 contact-tracing application, created in conjunction with VMWare’s Pivotal Labs, hit the Apple and Google app stores this past week for an initial trial run in the Isle of Wight. However, its rollout may be delayed or even scrapped as the NHS has tasked Swiss company, Zuhlke, to evaluate its current centralized approach in comparison to the decentralized API model endorsed by tech giants Apple and Google.

Whilst the two approaches share some similarities, they also differ in key areas. Although both models use Bluetooth to register a user’s contact with others nearby, the decentralized model relies heavily on the devices to operate privately, referencing a central server but ultimately delivering alerts between the two parties. In contrast, the centralized model that NHSX had originally opted for would rely on a central database to issue these alerts. It is also worth noting that, whereas the NHSX app is its own entity, Apple and Google are simply providing an API that can be tailored by governments all over the world.

The UK is one of only a few countries to attempt the centralized model. Germany originally favored this approach before it made a sudden U-turn, whilst France has received a letter from hundreds of security experts urging it to switch to the decentralized model. One can only assume that the UK has faced similar pressures, which have led to the appointment of Zuhlke to assess whether a German-style U-turn may be worthwhile.

Despite some initial positive feedback that the NHSX app was lightweight, unobtrusive, and intuitive, many would agree that it would be wise to reconsider and adopt Apple and Google’s decentralized API approach instead and so, without further ado, here are five reasons why NHSX should consider making the switch: Continue reading “COVID-19: Five Reasons Why NHSX Should Consider Switching to Decentralized Contact Tracing”