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Now over a week into the launch of the new NHS coronavirus track and trace app; how is it doing and how many people are now self isolating as a result of using it? After months of various different issues with the app build, and costs soaring into the millions of pounds – how is the app going to be used and is it going to make a difference?

The NHS Covid-19 app in simple terms, is set to give notifications to people through their phone if they have been near another app user that has logged that they have a positive coronavirus test. The notification will instruct those people to self-isolate for two weeks in order to reduce the passing of the virus.

The app also has a feature on it that allows users to scan the much-resurgent QR codes; to “check-in” to a large variety of venues across the country from pubs, restaurants, gyms and even some workplaces. They will also then receive a notification at any point in the future telling them to self-isolate should someone who later logs that they have had a positive coronavirus result; having visited that same venue.

Staggeringly, the NHS Covid-19 app has already been downloaded by (correct as of yesterday, Monday 28th September) 12.4 million devices which makes it the fastest downloaded app in the history of Britain. This comes even despite early teething problems and issues with privacy which may have deterred some users from downloading the app. It can be classed as triumphant, though; with a large willingness from a huge portion of the population to download the app and do their part in order to try and help stop the spread of the virus. There are however some people who are finding confusion in what to do with the app; and where to get it from.

The app itself is available on the App store on iPhone and on the Google Play store for Android devices which is the same way you would download and install any app on most smartphones. It should also be noted, though; that the app can only be used on smartphones and isn’t compatible with tablets or smartwatches if people had preferred that method. This is likely due to the need for camera compatibility.

One criticism of some people is that the app will only work with versions of iPhone later than the 6; operating on iOS 13.5 or later; and alternatively on Android 6.0 or later. This has sparked complaints regarding the availability of the app to people who do not have the technical ability or availability in order to have the app installed on their phone. Many people have also worried about how much of the phones battery life will be taken up by this new app which will seemingly be scanning constantly for other user’s phones; with Bluetooth needing to be switched on at all times in order for the app to work.

The app is powered by a Google-Apple crossover, which uses the Bluetooth to keep an anonymous contact log of anyone you come into close contact with for longer than 15 minutes – this is supposed to be the amount of time at which infection rate vastly increases. When the app is installed on two people’s phones, the bluetooth will be used in order to exchange a “digital handshake” which will swap keys between the devices after a minimum of 5 minutes – the actual strength of the Bluetooth signal is then used to help determine the distance between the two phones/people.

Another point of contention for the app; though, is that users are required to enter if they have coronavirus symptoms or a positive test result in order to trigger an alert to be sent to people who have come into close proximity with them; and in turn, tell them to self-isolate. The system’s algorithm will determine if there has been a close and long enough interaction between yourself and the person you have been into contact with that has logged a positive result; and then make a decision on whether to tell you to self-isolate or not.

Some people have raised issues when it comes with patient privacy; in particular Dr Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye who is head of the Computation Privacy Group at Imperial College London explained:

“We need to do everything we can to help slow the outbreak. Contact tracing requires handling very sensitive data at scale, and solid and proven techniques exist to help us do it while protecting our fundamental right to privacy. We cannot afford to not use them.” 

In response, Matt Hancock argued against those privacy concerns and has claimed that data would only be held as long as it was needed – all data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards.

Mr Hancock continued: “If you become unwell you can securely tell this new NHS app, and the app will then send an alert anonymously to other app users who you’ve been in significant contact with.”

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