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NHS COVID-19 app removes possible exposure notifications
by Paul Hill
The NHS COVID-19 app has been upgraded to include a new version of the Google and Apple API. Among the new improvements are more accurate distance measurements and the removal of confusing exposure notifications.
With the updated API, time data is taken into consideration and signal strength data has been improved. By considering these bits of information as two devices pinging each other, the app will be able to make a better estimate of how close to the other person you are. This update will reduce the chance that you’re told to isolate if you were considered low risk.
Another change is the scrapping of possible exposure and near-miss notifications. These were being sent out by Google and Apple rather than the NHS COVID-19 app and caused a lot of confusion among users who were not sure what to do upon receiving the notification. The app was updated a few weeks ago to send a second notification explaining not to isolate but now they’ve been scrapped altogether and the app will tell users directly if they should isolate.
The app uses a risk scoring algorithm to decide whether people should isolate, by taking into account things like the distance between two devices and how long they have been near each other. With the new update, this has been tweaked according to a new statistical algorithm so that more people will be asked to self-isolate. It said that by lowering the threshold at which people have to isolate, the country has a better chance at reducing the R rate and breaking the chain of transmission.
Millions of people have downloaded the app so far but a few people using iOS devices have complained that they cannot upgrade to the required version of iOS to use the app for some reason or other. If you have an iOS device that should be capable of running the app but need to update iOS first, follow Apple’s helpful guide which explains how to update over-the-air or via a computer.
UK's numerous contact tracing apps to become interoperable
by Paul Hill
With the constituent parts of the United Kingdom having their own autonomy when it comes to their coronavirus response, they’ve each developed their own contact tracing apps. From today, users of the Scottish, Northern Irish, and Jersey contact tracing apps will get notifications if they crossed paths with someone on a different contact tracing app who laters tests positive for coronavirus.
To make this work, developers had to incorporate a federated server where positive test results can be stored and then the participating apps can query the server for matches. The app used in England and Wales, as well as the one being used in Gibraltar, will join the federation in early November.
Commenting on this development, a Department of Health spokesperson said:
According to the BBC, the Irish software company NearForm developed contact tracing apps for Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. The Northern Ireland app already works with the app in Ireland but there’s no interoperability between Ireland’s app and those used in Scotland, England, and Wales, although, this could change in the future.
The work that’s going on across the UK to get the apps speaking to one another opens up possibilities for different nations around the world to add interoperability into their apps but with work on vaccines marching ahead, we may never see that happen.
Source: BBC News
NHS contact tracing app receives fix for scary notification
by Paul Hill
The NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app has received an update to give users clarity about a scary message that appears regarding COVID-19 exposure but vanishes with no explanation when pressed. When users go into the app after pressing the notification, they will now be told that they can ignore the warning if certain conditions are not met.
With the app launching in the last week of September, millions of people have found time to install the app so they can be asked to self-isolate if they come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. With the increased use, people began receiving a notification that read “Possible COVID-19 exposure: Someone you were near reported having COVID-19. Exposure date, duration and signal strength have been saved.” The message would disappear when pressed and no more information would be provided in the app unless you were in contact with the person for 15 minutes at a distance of two metres.
In the new update, users that click the notification will receive another message if they don’t meet the requirements to self-isolate saying: “COVID-19 Exposure Check Complete. Don’t worry, we have assessed your risk and there is no need to take action at this time. Please continue to stay alert and follow the latest advice on social distancing.”
According to the BBC, the team behind the app is working on a big update for the app which will switch to a newer version of the Apple-Google framework which could stop the “Possible COVID-19 exposure” notifications altogether and cut down on the confusion. It’s reported that the framework update will also improve the way Bluetooth is used to measure the distance between two phones.
Source: BBC News
England and Wales COVID-19 contact tracing app launches
by Paul Hill
The COVID-19 contact tracing app has finally launched in England and Wales. The new app is based on the Google and Apple API which is decentralised and offers a high degree of privacy that doesn’t require users to register an account.
To use the app, you must be using a device running Android 6.0+ or iOS 13.5+ that supports Bluetooth 4.0+. Additionally, you must be aged 16 or over to use the app – this has been reduced from 18+ which was the age requirement during the trials.
The new app comes with several features, immediately when you begin using it you’re asked to provide the first half of your postcode, this will tell you how high the COVID-19 risk is in your area and provides you with advice based on this. In the background, the app will use Bluetooth to keep a log of all the other devices it comes into contact with and if any of their owners report a positive COVID-19 test, you’ll be asked to isolate for a week.
In addition to Bluetooth logs, the app allows you to check-in at venues. Businesses will display QR codes that you can scan, if there are reported cases at the venue at the time you were there you’ll be notified. It's important to note that you only have to check-in, the system will automatically check you out after a certain period.
Other features in the app include a symptom checker, a link to read the latest government advice, and a section to enter your COVID-19 test result. If you enter a positive result, people who you’ve come into contact with will be notified to isolate but your identity will remain private.
According to BBC News, users that ignore the app’s self-isolation warning are in theory liable to be fined. However, because the app is anonymous, the fines will be impossible to enforce should you choose to ignore them. If you feel you cannot afford to self-isolate, be sure to check the government website for any financial assistance you may be able to claim.
People living in England and Wales ought to feel reassured about their privacy. In the first iteration of the app, the government was using a centralised model that offered less privacy. This was eventually dropped due to technical limitations. The only personal information that users will enter into the new app is the first half of their postcode.
You can download the app from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store now.
Gallery: NHS COVID-19 Contact Tracing app
Cyberflashing law reforms set to come to England and Wales
by Paul Hill
The Law Commission for England and Wales has published proposals to better protect victims from harmful online behaviour. The proposals suggest an alteration to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to cover Cyberflashing (unsolicited nude images and videos) and reforms to the Malicious Communications Act (MCA) 1988 and the Communications Act (CA) 2003 to criminalise pile-on harassment.
Pile-on harassment is defined by the Law Commission as several different individuals sending harassing communications to a victim. The proposed changes include communication such as emails, social media posts, and WhatsApp messages. It also includes communications over Bluetooth or a local intranet which aren’t yet covered by the Communications Act 2003.
The Law Commission said that online abuse is covered by the MCA 1988 and the CA 2003 but suffers from a range of problems including that they do not “adequately criminalise” cyberflashing and pile-on harassment. It also said the threshold of criminality is too low and with its reforms wants to heighten it to only include those who knowingly post false information about someone or are intending to cause harm.
Commenting on the proposals, Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said:
In the proposal, the Law Commission also asks questions about other areas that could be reformed in the future. These included topics such as incitement or encouragement of pile-on harassment, knowing participation in pile-on harassment, the glorification of violence or violent crime, and incitement or encouragement of self-harm. You can find the full paper on the Law Commission’s website.