The UK’s bungling of its attempt to come up with an effective contact tracing app for coronavirus has led the date of its launch to shift from May to this winter.
That should provide enough time to get things right finally and, as Tim Bradshaw reports, the possible feature list is growing all the time. It includes a “Geiger counter”-style map that would warn people about areas with a large number of infections; a countdown timer that helps people track the duration of an enforced period of self-isolation; and barcodes for buildings that would enable offices and restaurants to know if someone with the virus visited them.
One key technology developed for the original NHSX app may be preserved, as Apple and Google consider incorporating new techniques for assessing distance between two smartphones into their global framework. Researchers at the Alan Turing Institute for data science have come up with “smoothing algorithms” that analyse Bluetooth signal strength for better distance assessments between users.
Our weekend analysis piece traces the rocky progress of the app, with experts wondering why countries from Germany to Gibraltar have managed rollouts and the UK has failed.
“I think it is an embarrassment that we have no app by now,” said Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder. “Even if imperfect, the answer to Covid-19 has to be about reducing transmission and it is a scandal that we are not using technology to get there faster.”
The Internet of (Five) Things
1. Facebook boycott grows despite concession
The social network’s efforts to stem a growing client boycott by introducing new policies failed over the weekend, with big brands including Diageo, Starbucks and Levi’s pulling spending. Unilever, Verizon and Coca-Cola earlier cancelled advertising for between a month and six months. Facebook’s chief Mark Zuckerberg had announced plans on Friday to prohibit hate speech in ads and better protect groups such as immigrants from attacks. He also said the company would label posts that violate its policies.
2. Wirecard’s tangled web
Philippine regulators are investigating the local partner businesses of the German fintech Wirecard to try to map out the full extent of the country’s exposure to one of Europe’s worst accounting scandals. Millions of UK consumers and small business owners have been dragged into the fraud that toppled the payments group, with accounts on banking apps powered by its technology now frozen. Its auditor EY has told its partners how to prepare for difficult conversations with clients. Wirecard’s bankruptcy underscores the urgency of next-generation payments regulation, says Huw van Steenis, former adviser to the Bank of England governor.
3. Amazon workers strike in Germany
At least 2,000 Amazon warehouse workers in Germany have gone on strike over safety concerns relating to coronavirus, as the company announced it would hand out $500m in “special one-time Thank You” bonuses to its frontline employees globally.
4. Cyber accountability lacking says Swiss Re
The Swiss reinsurer has called for companies to produce “cyber resilience” reports that would tell customers, suppliers and investors how well prepared they are for potential attacks, which have soared during the pandemic.
5. Infarm reaps new funding
Infarm, a German start-up developing indoor farms, is closing in on a new $200m investment at more than double its previous valuation. Unlike other vertical farming ventures that install crops in huge warehouses, Infarm’s smaller “modular” units sit on supermarket aisles and inside restaurants.
Tech week ahead
Monday: Memory chipmaker Micron reports on its fiscal third quarter after the New York market closes. Analysts at BMO Capital Markets see both Dram and Nand pricing weakening in the second half of 2020—more so than captured in estimates.
Tuesday: The separation of Match Group and its dating services from majority owner IAC is expected to be completed by today.
Thursday: Deadline for publication of the final report of the UK Competition and Markets Authority’s market study into online platforms and the digital advertising market.
Friday: Hit musical Hamilton debuts on Disney+.
Tech tools — Apple app Design Award winners
Apple has chosen eight apps as its 2020 Design Award winners. They include the UK’s StaffPad, which converts hand-drawn music notation into professionally formatted sheet music on the fly, using Apple Pencil on the iPad. Looom enables hand-drawn animation on the iPad, while Shapr 3D makes CAD easy on the tablet. Games, including the puzzle Where Cards Fall, won half of the awards.