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The NHS’ Coronavirus contact tracing app will use a different model to that proposed by Apple and Google.

A statement explained that with the help of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre, it has found a way to make the software run on iPhones without users having to keep the app active and on-screen.

“Engineers have met several core challenges for the app to meet public health needs and support detection of contact events sufficiently well, including when the app is in the background, without excessively affecting battery life,” said a spokesperson for NHSX, the health service’s digital innovation unit.

Contact tracing apps are designed to automatically alert people to whether they are at high risk of having the virus, based on whether someone else they were recently near to has been diagnosed with it, by logging each time two people come within a certain distance of each other for longer than a specified amount of time.

When a user registers themselves as being infected, alerts are automatically sent to everyone else they could have passed it on to, advising them to go into quarantine, or get tested.

NHSX has opted to use wireless Bluetooth transmissions to keep track of each qualifying meeting, with alerts then sent anonymously. It will also use a centralised model, with the matching process carried out on a computer server.

This contrasts with Apple and Google’s decentralised approach, where the matches take place on users’ mobile devices.

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Written by Peter Walker 28/04/20

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