Contact Tracing App
The virus has been an unwelcoming enemy for centuries. Authorities have always struggled to stop the spread of the virus let alone tracking and tracing the affectees. However, health technologies have now advanced to the stage whereby affectees could be tracked and whoever they come in contact with could also be easily alerted. Living in today’s connected world, internet infrastructure could be employed to stop the virus, stop the attacks. Anyone who owns a smart phone is connected and easily traceable. Health authorities could very easily notify public when they come close to virus affectees. The new app is no different. However, after receiving the privacy concerns from critics, serious consideration was given to design an app that would not share or broadcast unsafe personal data.
Technology behind app
The app is named as ‘NHS Covid-19’ on app store. Those who use other phones powered with android could download from google play store. It uses ‘Exposure Notification Technology’ which broadcasts random numbers which are then downloaded in other’s phones. App is based on API developed by apple and google which was released in late May this year. Once a day, a list of coronavirus affectees is downloaded from health authorities servers. If downloaded list matches any number from that of health authorities list, then phone owner could be alerted that they might have been exposed to the virus. Health authorities could then arrange for Covid-19 tests. In addition, it also allows customers in the bars and pubs to scan QR code which is then used for tracking and tracing the visitors.
App has successfully completed trials in Isle of Wight. NHS is strongly recommended public to download the apps to stop the spread of the virus. More people uses the app, better it gets as it provides more data to health authorities. Following improvements with data privacy elements of the app design, it has received positive response from the public, health authorities as well as critics. It also leaves to public discretion if they wish to broadcast their own phone data which is simply random numbers associated with their smart phones. No one knows around the affectees who is the affectees. In addition, app could be temporarily disabled simply within its own settings or switching off the bluetooth. On the other hand, it could also be considered as a limitation to the effectiveness of app as it is only going to work if bluetooth is on and random numbers are being generated.
Innovation in Apps
From innovation perspective, it is worth noting few of the constraints that were the main requirements and which delayed contact tracing. App has only been possible after release of API from Google and Apple. API stands for application programming interface. It is nothing but to send command to operating system to perform required activities. These activities could be ‘Switch on Bluetooth’, ‘Broadcast random number’ and so on. API is similar to DLL for windows operating system. Once installed, we could simply ‘call/command’ instrument’s functions. For instance, we could use DLL for a keyboard, speakers, printer or whatever in our custom app and control peripherals directly from the apps.
One might think it would be rather hard to generate dissimilar random data. However, it is rather simple as every phone has a unique MAC address, number, owner details. The combination just makes it impossible to have two similar random numbers from different phones. In addition, the numbers generated could be a complex ‘hash’ similar to SHA256 algorithm 256 bit long string of characters. It is not known yet what algorithm or format it uses. Rest assured, no concerns have arisen so far with regards to app producing similar random numbers. At least, I hope this is the case and designers have considered to use a stronger algorithm to generate these random numbers.
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