NHSx, the digital transformation department of the NHS, announced that it’s open-sourcing the code behind the COVID-19 Tracing App. A move that will be welcomed by many after its recent (and controversial) rejection of Apple and Google’s decentralised system support.

In a bid to ensure transparency, both the iOS and Android beta apps are available for a full inspection on GitHub. We couldn’t resist taking a peek…

How does the COVID-19 tracing app work?

From the looks of things, the app doesn’t use location data right now. Instead, it uses Bluetooth energy to perform an anonymous “digital handshake” when two users come close to one another.

If one user then later reports a positive coronavirus test, then everyone they’ve been in close contact with in the past 28 days will be notified straight away and instructed to self-isolate.

What’s the alternative?

All tracing apps are taking the same approach to how you track potential spread. The focus is on proximity detection via Bluetooth. The sticking point, however, seems to be data.

Both Apple and Google are pushing for “privacy preservation,” keeping all data on devices only. This means no central data repositories and no way for governmental bodies to access the data collected through the coronavirus tracing apps.

Meanwhile the U.K,. along with other select countries, want full access to the anonymised data set through a centralised system. These health services and government agencies understandably want to prioritise infection hotpots and rates over user privacy.

It’s important to also note that the NHS COVID-19 app includes the permissions “ACCESS_COARSE_LOCATION” and “ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION.” And while they aren’t being utilised right now, the NHS has already stated that “a system of monitoring location data” could be introduced soon. This would allow them to track individual users’ specific movements via GPS.

The NHS-COVID-19 Tracing App has been live on The Isle of Wight since 5th of May with the country-wide roll out expected between two and three weeks later.