IT is two years since information-harvesting and sharing for commercial and political purpose by internet giants was exposed. Sadly, the scandal caused barely a ripple and did not change online behaviours, despite the evidence. Oxford University research found in 2018 that Facebook receives third-party data from 43 per cent of apps, Twitter 34 per cent, Verizon 26 per cent, Microsoft 23 per cent, and Amazon 18 per cent. Industrial-scale information sharing which goes on pretty much unchecked and with impunity.

In a time of pandemic, social media has been useful in spreading the word about the virus, and how to protect ourselves and our loved ones. It has been indispensable for staying in touch and providing respite during the time of lockdown. And now it will become part of the loosening of restrictions.

An app for contact tracing is being developed collaboratively by Google and Apple. A coming together of two giants resonant of Roosevelt and Stalin discussing how to defeat Hitler. Except Google and Apple have more power, reach and wealth. Countries across the globe are ‘buying’ into their vision, which will mean if someone tests positive for Covid-19 the background information on our phones will be examined and if said person is on our contacts, or has been where our phones have been, we will be alerted.

There has been a dispute in the EU about this technology, with apps being viewed as essential going forward, but a difference on where information gleaned might be stored. Last week Germany changed tack from a bespoke app which would store information centrally to the international decentralised model. Following resistance both within Germany itself and EU partners, the Chancellor gave way and now the EU is moving forward with the decentralised Apple/Google option.

Britain is going it alone. Their boffins are ‘modelling’ a centralised app on the Isle of Wight at an RAF base. When speaking about the app this week, Matt Hancock, London’s Minister for Health, assured us all with a smile that personal security was safe.

Here on this island we know what techniques of mass surveillance can lead to – the skewing of a population’s voting intentions on Brexit is the least of it. But even before we get to the nitty-gritty of our human rights being breached, we are potentially living on an island that in a couple of short weeks will see us having two app regimes. The Irish government is going with the Apple/Google app and here we will have the British app.

And guess what? The apps don’t talk to each other, and are incompatible. Of course they are.

Expect in coming days to hear the arguments on why this is self-defeating and unworkable. And expect to hear others robustly defending the British app. And then expect to hear the term ‘Orange and Green’. And expect measures to tackle the spread of Covid-19 to be completely and utterly compromised as a result.

If that makes it sound like I fancy an effective all-island app to harvest my personal details, I don’t. I actually don’t care my data is stored, that is not my issue. I view it all as a  fundamental breach of my right to privacy and am not one bit assured that this information ‘will not be put to other use’.

Quandaries all round in this modern age.