Big tech wins again
It was inevitable, wasn’t it? Just as anyone with an understanding of tech predicted, the UK government has finally switched its contact tracing app efforts to the Apple and Google API that pretty much every other country and US state has adopted.
The specific with the old system was as the BBC reports
, “the software registered about 75% of nearby Android handsets but only 4% of iPhones.”
But there’s a chance that even the reworked app may not see the light of day with contact tracing included. The BBC again:
The government now intends to launch an app in the autumn, however it says the product may not involve contact tracing at that point.
Instead the software may be limited to enabling users to report their symptoms and order a test.
Baroness Dido Harding - who heads up the wider Test and Trace programme - will only give the green light to actually deploying the Apple-Google technology if she judges it to be fit for purpose, which she does not believe is the case at present. It is possible this may never happen.
The Apple-Google API version is apparently much better at detecting iPhones but worse at detecting the distance between different devices.
So it’s not as simple as smugly laughing at a government that tried to do things its own way, because there’s a valid point that governments should have sovereignty over deploying tech they believe is best for their populations. Whether you agree with the UK government’s overall approach or not, the idea that Apple and Google should decide what is best for every country in the world is disturbing to say the least.
The ‘decentralised’ model of the Apple-Google approach is certainly better for user privacy than hoarding all the data on a central database, but should it be big tech corporations that decide this? Or should they do their best to accommodate the requests of elected governments around the world? And if they don’t, maybe we need to take a long, hard look at big tech’s power, and what it could mean for our future.