The UK government is working on a Covid-19 tracking app with Apple and Google

covid-19 coronavirus crowd phone
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The UK government has confirmed that it's working on a smartphone app that would track those with Covid-19, and the people they have come into contact with – a strategy that may well be adopted by most countries in the world, eventually.

As the BBC reports, UK health secretary Matt Hancock announced the development of the app at a press briefing over the weekend, though as yet there's no timescale on when the app might be available to the general public.

Although Hancock didn't mention any partners by name – instead referring to a collaboration with "the world's leading tech companies" – the BBC reports that the UK government will indeed be using the tracking technology currently being refined by Apple and Google.

Apple and Google have pledged to work together to build a system that can work across Android and iOS phones, using low-energy Bluetooth signals to build up a map of the people you've been in contact with.

Yellow and red alerts

The app will work by sending everyone you've been in close proximity to a yellow alert if you think you've caught the coronavirus. If medical tests confirm that you've got Covid-19, then that will be upgraded to a red alert.

However, to guard against privacy concerns, all of this will be anonymized – the app will only identify other devices with codes, won't reveal any identities, and won't log any location data along the way. Anyone who gets an alert won't know who it has come from.

Installing the app will be voluntary in the UK, but if enough people start using it, it's possible that lockdown restrictions could start being eased bit by bit – both in the UK and in other countries where similar apps are being worked on.

"All data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards, and would only be used for NHS care and research," says Hancock. "And we won't hold it any longer than is needed."

David Nield
Freelance Contributor

Dave is a freelance tech journalist who has been writing about gadgets, apps and the web for more than two decades. Based out of Stockport, England, on TechRadar you'll find him covering news, features and reviews, particularly for phones, tablets and wearables. Working to ensure our breaking news coverage is the best in the business over weekends, David also has bylines at Gizmodo, T3, PopSci and a few other places besides, as well as being many years editing the likes of PC Explorer and The Hardware Handbook.