NHS Scotland has released the Protect Scotland app, a free test and trace mobile app designed to reduce the spread of coronavirus and avoid further lockdowns.
If two users come into close contact and one tests positive for coronavirus, it will help determine any potential contacts and transmissions that a user may miss.
There have been concerns about how test and trace apps protect their users’ data, with privacy rights campaigners warning that the app must be shown to respect user privacy if it is to be fully embraced by the public. As such, NHS Scotland has taken steps to ensure that the app’s users remain anonymous, and to promote that feature.
The Protect Scotland app works in the background on a user’s phone and exchanges encrypted codes via Bluetooth with other app users when they are near. The codes are randomised and record the length of time the two users were in contact with each other and the distance between them.
These codes do not record a user’s location or identity and are deleted after 14 days, the Scottish Government confirmed. The app itself does not require additional data, such as a postcode, to download, nor does it collect a user’s name, age or phone number. It also does not check if the user has been or is self-isolating.
Should a user be diagnosed with Covid-19, they are given a code to enter into the app which then alerts users that have been closer than two metres to the infected user for at least 15 minutes. This system means that users can report their infection anonymously.
📱There’s a new way to help fight COVID in Scotland. ‘Protect Scotland’ – our confidential contact tracing app – will anonymously notify app users you’ve been in close contact with, should you test positive. Please download, and let’s all protect Scotland https://t.co/rdrRPopPB4
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) September 10, 2020
Speaking to DIGIT earlier this week, Open Rights Group Scotland Director, Matthew Rice, said the app shows “encouraging signs” due to its development as a decentralised – and thus privacy-preserving – system.
The app utilises commonly used technology developed by Google and Apple.
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With the number of Covid-19 cases rising in both Scotland and the UK as a whole, fears are growing about the possibility of a second wave and a second lockdown.
The Scottish Government noted that the app will work in tandem with existing ways of stopping the coronavirus. It advised that current public health measures and advice, such as maintaining physical distance, maintaining good hygiene and wearing masks, should still be followed.
NHS Scotland said users may still be contacted by a contact tracer if they were identified as being at risk through traditional contact tracing methods.