Google and Apple block update to England’s contact-tracing app over privacy violation

An update to NHS’s COVID-19 app has been blocked by Apple and Google for violating their location data collection rules.

Source: Google and Apple block update to England’s contact-tracing app over privacy violation

Some time back I wrote about the digital contact tracing efforts being made by a variety of public and private institutions. The endeavour, fraught with privacy considerations, has yet to truly prove its potential – little evidence of the efficacy of the approach has been gathered. In an effort to change this, the UK government has recently attempted to release an update to their app, built upon the Apple/Google framework, in lockstep with a change in the nation’s COVID policy. The app would begin to gather and store geographic tracking data to enable authorities to better respond to outbreaks as citizens break free of a long lockdown to socialise in outdoor eateries and pubs. This move however has met resistance from both Apple and Google, who are thankfully taking users’ privacy very seriously.

Two people walk behind a fence surrounding a covid test centre in copenhagen.

Fjellfolk Weekly Roundup – 4th April 2021

Thought for the week

As the public sector and the private sector collaborate to respond to the need for quick and reliable testing in the face of the Covid pandemic, it is interesting to see armies of young people, relatively invulnerable to the most severe effects of the virus, working in a coordinated and orderly fashion to provide the testing facilities that we depend upon in order to maintain some degree of normalcy in society.

After a modestly challenging search for the location of the test centre, which moves frequently from parking lot to parking lot across the city, my most recent testing experience was a smooth and light-hearted experience. Smiling, even if visibly under-stimulated, youngsters wore a uniform of surgical masks, yellow jackets, ubiquitous flairs and Fila trainers. I was guided from station to station as my nose was repeatedly violated in pursuit of the vital negative result, which acts as a passport to so many activities in today’s mid-pandemic world. The whole process took less than five minutes and was utterly frictionless, in large part due to the unfussy demeanour of the workforce, unburdened as they were by the fear of the possibly serious consequences of their own infection.

There have been many positives from this otherwise catastrophic situation, and seeing societies youngest generation of adults working so visibly and effectively to enable our response is certainly one of them.

Sustainable Food

Oatly, the Swedish oat milk brand, is both the brand leader in the growing alt-dairy market, but is also our personal favourite milk alternative here at Fjellfolk. The decision to establish a significant production capacity in the UK, as reported in the Guardian, is both a positive indication of the growing demand for milk alternatives, and an interesting illustration of the changing dynamics of trade in a post-Brexit Europe. We are by no means pro-Brexit here at Fjellfolk, but there is no denying that repatriating production and industry is both good for local economics and good for sustainable food production.

Cities Building Bridges

Copenhagen is geographically relatively isolated, with a chain of islands to the west, and the relatively sparsely populated and expansive south of Sweden to the east. Building connections to the closest economically significant cities in the neighborhood is therefore somewhat challenging. Hence the hard-won tunnel project, which will significantly shrink travel times between Copenhagen and Hamburg to the south-west. This week it was annouced that ground investigation work for the 18km long tunnel, an immersed tube running along the sea floor, has been completed. This is a key milestone for the €7.1bn project, which is due to be completed by 2029. With rail travel growing in popularity due to the climate crisis and the COVID pandemic, any improvement to travel times is welcome and worthy of investment.

Urbanism & COVID

Dining out, cafe culture, and nightlife are important pull factors for city living. The bars, cafes, and eateries left reeling from necessary but costly COVID responses across the globe are now looking for more resilient and safe ways to host their socially deprived customers. Al fresco dining, already a success during the summer reprieve between waves of the pandemic, is a strategy growing in popularity. In the UK, not a country well known for it’s outdoor dining culture, the idea is catching on, as reported in this article in the Guardian.

Innovating within a city’s existing mobility culture

From LA’s car culture to Amsterdam’s renowned cycle culture, the under-served mobility “value-pockets” in the gaps between existing mobility solutions represent the best lens through which to envision future mobility innovations in cities the world over. This is according to ReD Associates’ Ian Dull and Gehl Architects’ Jeff Risom, who have written a piece challenging the approach of mobility innovators in recent years.

Recognising that the success of mobility innovators has been exposed as relatively fragile in the midst of the COVID pandemic, and that mobility is about more than getting from A to B – it is also about the experience: the sights, sounds and interactions which stimulate the billions of city dwellers globally – Dull and Risom summarise an alternative approach for future innovators in this growing sector.

The real opportunity for mobility disrupters – and mobility services generally – is to prove how indispensable they can be for improving those social, cultural, and physical contracts in each city.

Fancy a Dip?

Three photos to wrap up this week, from the jetty at Hellerup in the north of Copenhagen. With temperatures back around freezing after a brief reprieve in March, winter bathing is a pursuit which we are lucky to be able to enjoy well into spring.

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Epics: the raw materials for scaled agile

The various scaled agile frameworks make use of some common building blocks which many practitioners will be familiar with. Stories are often the most familiar, as they are the raw material of the SCRUM and Kanban practices which have been applied at the team/squad level for many years, particularly in technical teams. However, in the process of scaling these practices a need for larger aggregations of work was needed, and in response to this need, emerged epics.

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On privacy and contact tracing

Contact tracing, the process by which health authorities can identify those at risk of infection by virtue of proximity to a known case of a virus, has long been a pillar of pandemic response. With radio-enabled mobile devices now globally ubiquitous, it comes as little surprise to see that they are playing a role in the evolution of contact tracing methods.

Contact tracing is only as effective as its scale. The ability to evaluate only small proportions of an at-risk population will ultimately undermine any contact tracing system, manual or digital. As early attempts to develop contact tracing apps launched around the globe, technical limitations, privacy concerns and poor assumptions about adoption rates undermined almost all efforts. Into this mess stepped Apple and Google, together responsible for the software, and to a lesser extent hardware, which power the majority of our mobile devices.

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The urban impact of 5G

The next generation of mobile broadband data network is being discussed in almost every context you can imagine, from technology to healthcare to sociology to urbanism. 5G is coming. But what is it, what does it enable, and how is it relevant to the citizens of urban places? And therefore, what does it mean to those designing and moulding the cities in which we live?

5G will replace or augment your existing 4G connection, providing exponentially greater bandwidth alongside massively reduced latency – the time it takes for data to get from A to B.

5G operates across a broad range of frequency spectrums. Lower frequency ranges (below 6GHz) provide a more reliable signal but are limited in their bandwidth. These ranges are nearing saturation in many cases from overloading of existing 4G networks. 5G also leverages higher frequency spectrums, which provide massively increased data rates and much lower latency, but which are quite limited in their ability to penetrate buildings, and the coverage area for a single antenna is limited, thus necessitating much larger numbers of antennae to achieve uniform and reliable coverage.

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COVID-19 and climate change

This is just a drill. What is reassuring about the COVID-19 pandemic is the fact that we humans have prior experience of pandemics. We, as a millenia old global society, have learned from the suffering of so many before us, and can reason about the course of this outbreak as it traces the scars of pandemics past. It is this knowledge which allows our scientists to confidently inform our responses to the challenge we presently face. Contagion factors, mortality rates, exponential curves – these are all intuitive factors in the relatively straightforward science of viral transmission.

Despite this prior experience, and despite an intuitive and relatively simple mathematical foundation for modelling the impact of a viral outbreak, society has struggled to respond in a coordinated, cohesive and intellectually sound manner. And as such the disease has killed thousands, spread globally at a rate which continues to grow exponentially, and has caused economic damage running to trillions of dollars.

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