Why NHS’s world-beating app was always a going to be awful but 10+ million!

Contact tracing api
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Even if you forget the thoughts are coming from a ex-googler who has interests elsewhere this blog is pretty damming and I  can imagine how the NHS really bought their own nonsense about it being world beating. Of course in the end they had to back pedal and use the Google & Apple decentralised contact tracing api.

But there are parts even I was shocked at…

It worked 4% of the time.

Thats not even funny, its not just unreliable but a total waste of time. Even if thats exaggerated, double would still be a bad joke at 8%

The British effort did find workarounds that most other developers could not: They used “keepalives” (messages sent by one device to another) to circumvent restrictions on having apps in the background on iOS. Notifications were sent between two Apple devices running the app to keep the connection between the devices alive and therefore having the ability to detect each other’s keys. The NHS tried to develop with a hacker’s mentality and shared its progress through its GitHub page.

There is a reason why keepalives are a bad idea, battery is one of the number one reasons why people find their smartphones deeply frustrating. Having a app keeping the system awake is just a terrible news. Although I assume as most people are staying at home, they will be closer to a charger at least

in May it was reported by the Financial Times that the British government was simultaneously exploring a solution with Apple and Google’s decentralized system as a backup, indicating that, even within the government, there were doubts that the centralized effort could work.

And this is when I heard they were testing both systems, leading to the fact they were going to drop the centralised app soon. This would be fine but…

The development of the app has taken months and cost millions of pounds from taxpayers…

…around $15 million spent…

I have no words to sum how I feel about the UK government throwing this money down the drain in the middle of a pandemic where people are losing their jobs and dying. Its not just wasteful, its incredibly disgraceful and pretty much sums up the UK government right now.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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