Monthly Archives: May 2020

Track and Trace the Dead Cat

Today’s big announcement: “track and trace” to go live tomorrow.  Five days earlier than previously announced, and nobody expected the app to be ready for that.  Even those supposed to be running the programme were only told this afternoon.

It’s Designed to Fail in so many ways: total centralisation (which has been the UK government’s response throughout – have we learned nothing from the failure of Soviet centralised planning?), an app developed by the government’s mates ignoring both the established (e.g. the South Korean app) and the hopefully-competent (Apple/Google), and a workforce not told what they’re supposed to do.

But we knew that already.  Bringing the date forward makes it officially a Dead Cat: give the meeja something to talk about other than disgraceful Cummings and Gowings, free of the rules affecting the rest of us (even government advisers Calderwood and Ferguson).   Mephistopheles himself is, it seems, to be exempted if Stuttley can possibly make the story go away.

Here’s a thought.  Could bringing track-and-trace forward have caught the inevitable scammers off-guard?  Could we perhaps survive the rest of the week before anyone is scammed by someone posing as being from the programme?  For this is surely fertile hunting ground for criminals: a call from someone tracing Covid contacts should elicit a wealth of information for phishing and identity theft from a victim anxious to cooperate.   I expect willing subjects will leak a lot of inexcusably-valuable secrets, too.  And not just on themselves, but on friends, family, colleagues who happen to be identified as possible contacts.

As for the UK app, I’ve been half-meaning to comment on that, so here goes – though today’s announcement serves a second purpose of backpedaling from the focus on it.  Concerns have been raised over privacy, and it’s been widely pointed out that its centralised privacy-violating approach is unnecessarily complex, inefficient, and different to that of many countries.  For myself, I might bring myself to live with that if it looked like a valid contribution to public health – a supposition now as dead as the cat.  But I’m certainly not going to go around making my phone a sitting duck by broadcasting bluetooth to every malefactor who might be listening.  Neither should anyone else who has valuable information – such as banking apps or payment-enabled channels – on their ‘phone!  I wonder how long it’ll be before government underwrites losses from phones through their app – or more likely requires the banks to do so?

And the whole programme headed by a party-political appointee whose claim to fame is that for years under her stewardship, Talktalk became a byword for all that could go wrong in an ISP and then more – an unassailable reputation as the worst-run in the business.