This week, the UK has begun trialing a contact tracing app for COVID-19, in alliance with NHSX, a sector of the National Health Service. Currently, the testing for the app is taking place on the Isle of Wight, which has a population of approximately 140,000.
The app uses Bluetooth to register when the user is in contact with another person who also has a smartphone. Factors that are included in this contact tracing are how long the contact is, and the distance between the smartphones. This clinical algorithm is then sent to the NHS for review, as they attempt to minimize the risk of infection and the rate of spread.
The app has been designed to notify the user if they begin to show signs of the coronavirus, and the government is now working on promoting it as an essential part of their fight against COVID-19. In fact, the health minister is asking everyone to stay at home and download the app. The NHS says that people can expect the app to be ready to use within three weeks of the first trial.
Naturally, there are questions around the overall effectiveness of the tool, especially as the government seems determined to develop it themselves. This raises concerns about any technical challenges they might face.
The app also lets its users report their own symptoms as well if they think that they might have the coronavirus. Of course, this could result in a number of false alerts, which in turn could result in trigger notification fatigue. Users could end up ignoring alerts if the number of false alarms outweighs the benefits.
It’s yet unknown how users are going to respond to this app on a grand scale, and the crucial thing is that it can only work if lots of people are downloading and using it. Additionally, fighting COVID-19 is a gradual process, which means that the app will need to be used for a long time for it to work as intended. Then, of course, there is a concern around data privacy, which the government will have to navigate as more people utilize the app.