Interesting question

Do Google or Apple get to tell a democratically elected government or its public health institutions what they may or may not have on an app?

Answer: Yes.

That is, Apple and Google have worked together to produce an app to facilitate contact tracing. Here’s what it does. This is what you can do with it.

Want to do more? Do it differently? Then write your own app then matey.

In the long run, however, this poses a far more fundamental question: how much can the decisions of sovereign democratic countries be overruled by technology companies?

It’s all just code. Write your own.

25 thoughts on “Interesting question”

  1. And I noticed that no comments are allowed. How dare a privately-owned newspaper dictate whether I can comment on their rubbish or not!

  2. To be more precise, Apple and Google have decided what facilities for contact tracing will be supplied by their operating systems while preventing the absolute unlimited surveillance capability that governments want. If governments want more they’ll not only have to write their own OS (twice), but they’ll have to force people to install it on their phones. Sadly there are places where that could work.

  3. How dare apple and Google spend millions developing their own property and then tell us we can’t dictate terms to them on how it is used…

    I’ve written apps for apple many times and in addition to the public rules there are further rules for health related apps and similar that must also be met. Don’t meet them? Tough, you can’t launch on that platform.

    I’ve had an app launch on android but never be able to get apple approval – they wouldn’t show me the additional terms but every time I fixed what they didn’t like they came up with a new problem.

    If I don’t like it I have two options – write my own OS, design a phone and beat apple at their own game (haha) or just advise customers that apple won’t allow that app and do android only.

    Wonder what apple would say if UK gov / NHS dictated a mandatory app that was Android only??

  4. It’s all just code. Write your own.

    They did. It was dogshit and cost a small fortune. This is the difference between having a contact tracing app written by some of the worlds best programmers and one written by a guy who could only get a job writing software for the NHS.

    Think about that for a minute.

    Sure, the government wanted to do it its own way and included a bunch of totalitarian bullshit that would never fly on Google or Apple, but fundamentally this whole project shouldn’t have even got into the development stage since the criteria for success couldn’t be achieved.

  5. @John Galt “This is the difference between having a contact tracing app written by some of the worlds best programmers and one written by a guy who could only get a job writing software for the NHS.”

    It’s not quite that. What the NHS “centralised” app needed to do is purposely supressed by the OS on the phone as the heavy use of Bluetooth scanning by an app is seen as undesirable by Google and Apple. Instead Apple and Google do this scanning within their own proprietary code. They then present the results in an form which only anonymised “contract tracing” apps can use.

  6. @AndyF – To which I refer you to my second paragraph. If the project couldn’t achieve the required deliverables with the approach recommended (custom development), then the project board should have been convened with the recommendation to close the project. All of this before a line of code had been written.

    PRINCE2 Project Manager (for what it’s worth, which is not much nowadays)

  7. Shurely Neil “computer says millions will die” Ferguson should write the app?

    It’d take years, and when finally ready would tell everyone to stay indoors for the rest of their lives.

  8. I’d be interested in their take as to whether a democratically elected government can open the schools it pays for.

  9. “It’s all just code. Write your own.”

    But be damn sure you comply with every clause of the privacy legislation the non-democratic EU has imposed on all those ‘democratic’ countries, or we’ll drop the sky on you, your business, your employees, and your famillies.

    Seeing governments being given the finger, just by tech companies obeying the law those governments inflict, has a certain enjoyment factor. If only there was a word for it…:)
    And it’s expensive entertainment.

  10. BiG
    when finally ready would tell everyone to stay indoors for the rest of their lives.

    Except for Neily and his current bit of fluff

  11. “Want to do more? Do it differently? Then write your own app then matey.”

    Not really, because Apple control the device. You can’t put anything on there without going through their gatekeepers.

    But it is *their* shit. Want to insist they allow your app, change the law. Haven’t changed the law? Asking nicely? Well, off you fuck, then.

  12. Russell Hancock,

    “I’ve had an app launch on android but never be able to get apple approval – they wouldn’t show me the additional terms but every time I fixed what they didn’t like they came up with a new problem.”

    Same experience. Google are pretty easy to deal with. It’s more about rules, Apple are more about a general idea. I’ve known people submit the same thing twice and because they got a different person, the app was approved.

    I know an agency that immediately adds £50K onto any quote if the client asks for an app to be on the app store, because of all the unknowns around the App Store submission process.

  13. Unfortunately to achieve what is desired it would also be necessary to change the laws of physics.

    Not really. Perhaps this is some form of humour that I’m too stupid to understand.

  14. Whatever the merits of the Apple/Google contract tracing app it won’t be on my phone

    The only company that could be worse for privacy and data slurping is Facebook

  15. ‘Change the laws of physics’
    Not sure about that, but they are apparently using signal strength to estimate contact distance, in a lab with controlled conditions that’s fine I’m sure it follows a nice mathematical rule as you move the devices apart, try doing it out in the real world and it’s significantly more complicated.

  16. “…but they are apparently using signal strength to estimate contact distance…”

    It apparently came as a surprise to them that this didn’t work when the scenario was inside a metal box, such as a bus, or train carriage.
    Any half competent radio engineer could have told them this for free: we call it a waveguide.

    But we are ruled by idiots with PPEs. Unicorn farts and magic trees.

  17. Bloke in North Dorset

    Apple has faced down the US government on many occasions when it came to privacy.

    For NHSX to think they would cave for them is the sort of arrogance that leads to most UK government project failures. I’ve seen that arrogance first hand and it’s not pretty, especially when you’re in the rom pointing it out.

  18. @John Galt June 24, 2020 at 10:14 am

    James is probably referring to how Bluetooth distance ‘guess’ is dependent on location – eg in a train carriage it goes haywire

  19. I’ve done some testing with sports watches with GPS in the past and just the everyday urban environment can be a nightmare for signals and the natural world isn’t much better (trees, rock faces etc) there’s a lot of processing done of the raw GPS data

  20. Tim the Coder: “But we are ruled by idiots with PPEs. Unicorn farts and magic trees.”

    That cadence and rhyme just cries out to be the refrain of a song.

  21. @djc
    Then I freely donate it to anyone wishing to use it!
    Thanks for the comment.
    Especially hope it’s used by Mr 17 million f*ckoffs in his next masterpiece 🙂

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