This is about writing, it just might take a while to seem like it. But if you bear with me through a tale about the usefulness of writing villains – and getting other people to write about them too – then I can offer you a reward that’s apparently worth millions. Please pass this on to any UK government people you know, because I’m going to give you the COVID-19 contact tracing app that they can’t.
I’m not joking.
Here’s the story that the UK government has written and is getting some newspapers to copy. The brave UK with its world-beating boffins tried to make the greatest coronavirus exposure notification app there possibly could be, but nasty Apple stopped them.
It’s actually Apple and Google who wouldn’t play ball with the UK’s demands, but never mind that, we need one villain so we pick Apple. The Times newspaper reports that MPs in Parliament are “angry” at Apple and these are the men and women ruining – sorry, running – the country so they wouldn’t be annoyed if it weren’t true. If Apple weren’t a moustache-riddled bad guy who strokes a white cat and eats our children, our politicians would be getting on with fighting the coronavirus for us.
The thing with creating a villain is that you are automatically the good guy. It’s good versus bad, and if you can paint the other fella as the bad one, you’re in.
I don’t believe that the UK ever wanted an app that would actually help with the coronavirus. And I am sick to my liver that it seems in the midst of a pandemic that is killing us, the government saw an opportunity for money. There is the unnecessary commissioning of a technology that we all knew wouldn’t work, but it seems to me that this app of theirs was concerned about gathering sellable data rather than doing anything for our health.
It seems to me. I don’t know. I can’t know.
But I can know this. I can know a lot of things. Such as how a few weeks ago the government was saying that it would be the duty of every UK citizen to download this app, when it was available, and now, not so much. Truly. Even after changing to the Apple/Google system, the UK is now shrugging, saying they might get something done by winter. I’m serious: that’s the official position. The app that will now work and protect our privacy is no longer a priority.
I know that what the UK was asking Apple to do was impossible. To make an app that can nick our personal data and get it ready to sell to people later, the UK needed Apple to switch off its security features that are intended to prevent anyone nicking our data and selling it to people. This is the same thing that Apple – an American company – refused to do for the FBI.
I have to say that I don’t and I cannot know that the UK’s interest was really in the opportunity for cash-gathering invasion of its citizens’ privacy.
But consider this.
If the UK actually wanted an app that would help with the coronavirus, it could have one.
I do mean that it could’ve adopted the Apple/Google system as other countries and US states have, yes. But also now, today, right this minute. The UK is not going to release a coronavirus app in the winter, it’s just not going to bother, and it isn’t because it’s difficult or because Apple has meant they’re months behind where they should be.
Let me prove to you that what the UK is putting its efforts into is writing villains instead of trying to help us. And I won’t even charge you a fraction of the millions the UK is believed to have given to app development companies owned by its friends.
Are you ready? Have a coronavirus contact tracing app on me. Here. I’m not joking. That’s the complete source code for Germany’s app. Complete. Ready. Right here – built using Apple/Google’s system, and currently being downloaded by millions of Germans.
Now tell me again how the big bad Apple is stopping the brave UK from making an app to help save lives.
The story the UK is writing – which is remarkably similar to the story it tells about the big bad European Union – is shockingly powerful, frighteningly successful. As a political tool, it angers and scares me. But as a piece of writing, it’s curious how strong it can be because it lacks something writers are forever told is essential.
Stories need a great villain, but they also need a great hero. When the two are equally strong, equally compelling, that’s drama. When one side or the other is trivial, there’s no story.
Right now, the UK has no hero.