Revenge of the TNT App Promise

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Apparently a trial of the coronavirus app is getting underway. It’ll be limited to residents in the Isle of Wight, the London Borough of Newham and NHS volunteer responders to start with.

The app will be available in the App Store and the Google Play Store but users will need to enter a code to activate it. The software will tell the user to self-isolate for two weeks if the app detects they have been in close proximity to someone else diagnosed with the virus.

Earlier, Dido Harding had voiced concern about implementing the automated contact-tracing feature because of fears many people who had been falsely suspected to have Covid might be told to go into quarantine. We wouldn’t have to worry about all this if things weren’t opening up prematurely. Either way, the app has several other functions, including:

  • An alert system that informs the user of the Covid risk level close to their home with the area defined by the first part of their postcode.
  • A QR barcode scanning facility so the user can check in when they visit a venue and be told if others there later tested positive (because we all know that we should be visiting packed clubs after a global pandemic).
  • A symptom-checking tool, which allows the user to book a free test and get the results via the app.
  • A countdown function that comes into effect if they are told to self-isolate so the user can keep track of how long to stay at home.
  • It initially works in five languages with plans to add more soon.

The contact-tracing element of the software is based on Google and Apple’s privacy-centric systems (so we’ll see how that goes). The developers acknowledge there are still some minor issues with measuring the distance between handsets, meaning some people will be incorrectly logged as being at high risk (which is very useful). Official social distancing guidance says that two people should not be within 2m of each other for 15 minutes or more but when trying to detect this, lab tests indicate:

  • 31% of cases are missed when the handsets were within range of one another.
  • 45% of cases are incorrectly flagged when the two handsets were, in fact, further apart.
  • However, if the boundary is set at 5m, the accuracy rates radically improve.

If you can recall, I’ve covered the Trace and Trace app (or lack thereof) multiple times, once in May and once in June. For those of you in need of a quick reminder, in May, I covered what could go wrong with an app like this. I talked about the risks of location tracking, fear-mongering and Bluetooth as a service as there is much to go wrong with that ol’ chestnut. Though I brought to light what could happen, it wasn’t to say that the app was a bad idea. In fact, it’s a very good idea but there are certain obstacles to be worked around. In June, they said what they’re saying now; that trials are going underway and that it should be available to the British public soon. Here we are, another month later, scratching our heads at why we still don’t have a TNT app.

Of course, it has it’s use as we’re under threat of a second wave and it’ll be useful when another pandemic comes along. Still, it shouldn’t have taken so long to develop something that could’ve saved lives. I’m not blaming anyone in particular, obviously, but we should’ve had an app ready in case of an occurrence like this.

Oh, well. Maybe next moth we’ll finally have a TNT app so people can go cram themselves into packed clubs while the coronavirus is still alive and kicking. That being said, I won’t hold my breath.

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