UK COVID-19 Contact Tracing App Moving to Apple/Google Model

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LONDON – The UK is to move to a decentralized model for the NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app, it emerged Thursday. The news came a day after it was revealed that a former Apple executive is to take over management of the rollout of the project. (via BBC News).

NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app logo

Former Apple Exec Managing NHS COVID-19 Contact Tracing App as UK Shifts Approach

Simon Thompson was at Apple between October 2009 and July 2011. During his time at Apple, Mr. Thompson was the General Manager of the online store in the EMEA region and India before becoming leading worldwide customer experience for Apple’s online store. He has since gone to hold a number of senior, digital roles at major firms. He is currently the Chief Product Officer at online grocer Ocado.

After resisting the decentralized model for months, the UK is now shifting to the Apple/Google model. The model has advantages, including privacy, but it does mean that epidemiologists may have access to less data.

Mr. Thompson has joined the UK’s track and trace operation led by former TalkTalk boss Baroness Dido Harding. He will undertake numerous tasks within the team, alongside managing the rollout of the UK’s COVID-19 contact tracing app.

It is understood the NHSX executives currently leading the rollout, Matthew Gould and Geraint Lewis, are stepping back as planned, even though the app’s national rollout has faced multiple delays. On Wednesday, Lord Bethell, the Department of Health’s Minister for Innovation, told a committee that while a trial of the COVID-19 contact tracing app had “gone very well indeed,” it may not be generally available until the winter. “We are seeking to get something going for the winter, but it isn’t the priority for us at the moment.”

[Update: Headline and story updated to reflect UK decision to move to the Apple/Google model for COVID-19 contact tracing.]

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