Most IT experts doubt contact tracing app will beat COVID-19, survey finds

LONDON (19 May 2020) — Less than one quarter of IT professionals think the planned NHSX contact tracing app will be effective in containing COVID-19, a new survey has found.


Just 24 percent believe the app will contribute to curbing the virus, with 32 percent feeling it will make no contribution and 45 percent undecided, according to a survey by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.


Some 42 percent of IT experts said they would be downloading the app for themselves, with 36 percent saying they would not install it and 21 percent undecided.


Members told the organisation that data security and privacy were their top concerns, followed by doubts around the app's ability to work effectively, and then trust in the Government. Concern about automating the advice to self-isolate was also an issue for 27 percent of respondents.


Just over half of professionals (51 percent) said the government should switch to the decentralised Google-Apple API model of storing records. Only 23 percent favour the planned centralised model designed into the app currently, and most of the rest had no opinion.


Dr Bill Mitchell OBE, Director of Policy at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT said: "BCS is clear that if done ethically and competently a tracing app can make a huge contribution to stopping the spread of COVID-19; but a majority of our members don't believe the current model will work and are worried about the reliance on a centralised database.


"Yet despite their doubts 42 percent would still install the app and 21 percent are undecided. It feels like there is a lot of goodwill out there to give a tracing app a chance - if it can be shown to work. That means if these concerns are fully addressed then maybe over 60 percent of the population will install a high quality app. That's the magic adoption figure we need for the app to have real impact on stopping COVID-19.


"The government will need to work hard to convince people that 'ethical by design, correct by design, and privacy by default' values are baked into the app to get the download numbers it is aiming for."


BCS received survey responses from 1716 of its members, in a poll issued between 11 May and 15 May.