How did Matt Hancock think he would get away with this one?
It seems he has tried to hide the failure of the Tory government’s attempt to create a Covid-19 contact tracing app for mobile phones by saying the government was merging its app with one already created by Apple and Google.
Apple has said it is unaware of any such agreement and the government has not held any discussions with the firm.
In other words: Hancock was lying.
That’s the only logical conclusion. Right?
Apple says it did not know the UK was working on a “hybrid” version of the NHS coronavirus contact-tracing app using tech it developed with Google.
The firm took the unusual step of saying it was also unaware of an issue regarding distance-measuring, which was flagged by Health Secretary Matt Hancock in Thursday’s daily briefing.
“We’ve agreed to join forces with Google and Apple, to bring the best bits of both systems together,” Mr Hancock said.
However, Apple said: “We don’t know what they mean by this hybrid model. They haven’t spoken to us about it.”
Apple said it was “difficult to understand” the claims.
Downing Street said the government had “worked closely with Apple and Google”.
In tests carried out in the UK, there were occasions when software tools developed by Apple and Google could not differentiate between a phone in a user’s pocket 1m (3.3ft) away and a phone in a user’s hand 3m (9.8ft) away.
During the briefing, Mr Hancock said: “Measuring distance is clearly mission critical to any contact-tracing app.”
However, speaking to the Times, Apple said: “It is difficult to understand what these claims are as they haven’t spoken to us.”
It gets worse. The government doubled down on its claim, with disastrous consequences:
On Friday, the Department of Health said the NHS’s digital innovation unit had indeed discussed its ambitions with Apple.
A Downing Street spokesman said the government continued to work closely with both Apple and Google on the app, and had done so since development began.
“We’ve agreed with them to take forward our work on estimating distance through the app that we’ve developed and work to incorporate that into their app,” he said.
Apple and Google have not created an app.
It’s not irredeemable for the Tories.
Apple is a commercial firm and will undoubtedly be happy to enter a commercial agreement with the UK government to create the track-and-trace system the Tories want.
The big question is whether this new system will have the facility to download people’s private information and make it available to other commercial operators, in the way the Tories’ – failed – app did.
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