Some privacy experts have raised concerns that patient confidentiality risks being compromised.
Dr Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, head of the Computational Privacy Group at Imperial College London, has warned that such apps could “collect sensitive information like location data”.
“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,” he said.
Mr Hancock has pushed back against the privacy concerns, claiming that data would only be held as long as it was needed and that “all data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards”.
“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,” the health secretary said.
Have other countries made something similar?
In Singapore, a contact-tracing app called TraceTogether has been rolled out by the government to track those who might be infected by coronavirus.
Since March 20 it has been downloaded over 800,000 times in the hopes of creating a “community-driven” response to the virus.
But contact-tracing apps around the world have been hit by technical and privacy challenges. This week, Norway announced it would be deleting app data gathered by its own contact-tracing app amid privacy concerns. Australia’s app, meanwhile, was found to have a bug that meant it stopped working on iPhones when they were locked.
What are Apple and Google doing?
The two tech giants have teamed up to offer each country a piece of technology that will help turn all iPhones and all Android phones (apart from newer Huawei devices) into contact tracing devices.
Apps that use the API (which must be made by a public official) send users “exposure notifications” if they have been in contact with someone who contracted coronavirus.