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NHS coronavirus app to launch in England and Wales on 24 September | Coronavirus outbreak

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The UK government’s Covid contact-tracing app will finally launch in England and Wales on 24 September, the government has announced, more than four months later than initially promised.

Currently being trialled in the Isle of Wight and the east London borough of Newham, the app was redeveloped entirely over the summer to adopt a framework created by Apple and Google, after an initial attempt to build an independent one failed to deliver reliable performance on iPhones.

In the run-up to the delayed launch, businesses across England and Wales are being urged to print and display NHS posters to help users of the app check in and record their presence.

The posters, which display a unique QR code for each business, can be scanned by the app, which then saves information that can be used to help contact tracers in the event of an outbreak.

That approach will not, however free individual bars, restaurants and shops from having to maintain their own records of visitors for contact tracing purposes, a policy which has led to concern about possible privacy violations. Venues must still maintain their own register to collect the contact details of those who have not, or could not, install the app.

“We need to use every tool at our disposal to control the spread of the virus including cutting-edge technology,” said the health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, in a statement. “The launch of the app later this month across England and Wales is a defining moment and will aid our ability to contain the virus at a critical time.

“QR codes provide an easy and simple way to collect contact details to support the NHS test and trace system.

“Hospitality businesses can now download posters for their premises ahead of the launch of the NHS Covid-19 app. This will allow the public to seamlessly check in to venues using the app when it launches.”

The QR code system has allowed the government to build a hybrid app, combining aspects of both the “centralised” approach it had initially attempted to create, and the “decentralised” approach required by Apple and Google. While the Bluetooth-based proximity tracing will not lead to any centralised database of movements, the QR code-based check-ins allow contact tracers to send out warnings about potential hotspots for the virus.

Businesses can download and print the QR code posters from the government website from Friday.

England and Wales are the last of the UK’s four nations to launch their contact-tracing apps. Scotland’s own app launched on Thursday – a day before it was expected – while Northern Ireland’s app was launched in July, as one of the first built around the Apple and Google system.

Wales’s health minister, Vaughan Gething, said the app’s launch was “an important part of coronavirus response” and that it was sensible for the app to work across the two countries.

He said: “Working on a joint England and Wales basis is the most practical option here, as we know there is a lot of movement across our shared border. It makes sense to use the same app, working in exactly the same way, regardless of which country you’re in.

“The Welsh government has worked closely with the NHS app team to ensure the app is easy to use and gives people the right advice and guidance, tailored to the country they reside in. I strongly encourage people in Wales to download and use the app when it launches.

“The more people who download and use the NHS Covid-19 app, the more it will help us to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

Professor Rowland Kao, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, warned that the app, while helpful, is “not a substitute for traditional contact tracing.

“First, the app requires both ends of the contact trace to have the app downloaded (meaning that even high adoption rates may still miss many contacts) and second, there will be many instances where personal contact and ‘soft skills’ will be necessary to ensure that quarantine and testing requirements are well understood and followed.

“Most importantly, even where tracing rates are high, COVID testing must not lag behind, either in terms of local availability of tests, or speed at which test results are received.”

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Ant Group final approvals for its massive Hong Kong, Shanghai IPO

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The Ant Group Co. logo and the Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. logo are displayed behind a reception desk at the company’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China, on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Ant Group has cleared the final regulatory hurdle for its massive initial public offering (IPO) with the pricing of its shares slated to be released within the next week.

On Wednesday, the China Securities Regulatory Commission gave the green light for Ant Group’s dual Shanghai and Hong Kong listing to go ahead. That came after the Hong Kong stock exchange also gave its approval for the offshore portion of the listing.

The Chinese financial technology giant, which is 33% owned by Alibaba and controlled by founder Jack Ma, also updated its IPO prospectus with information on the share structure.

It will split its stock issuance equally across Shanghai and Hong Kong, issuing 1.67 billion shares in each location. That amounts to 11% of its total outstanding shares post-IPO. The number of shares could increase if the so-called overallotment option is exercised, depending on demand.

Ant Group will now proceed with a roadshow to market the IPO to investors and will price the shares on Oct. 27.

Strategic investors have agreed to subscribe to 80% of the company’s Shanghai-issued A shares. Alibaba, via it subsidiary Zhejiang Tmall Technology, has agreed to buy 730 million A shares. This will allow Alibaba to maintain its roughly 33% stake in Ant Group.

Ant Group also released some updated financial figures for the first nine months of 2020. It says monthly active users of its Alipay mobile payments app has increased from 711 million in June to 731 million in September.

Revenue was 118.19 billion yuan ($17.73 billion), a more than 42% year-on-year rise.

Ant Group’s listing could be one of the biggest of all time. Reuters has previously reported the listing could raise up to $35 billion. One analyst previously told CNBC that Ant’s valuation could exceed $200 billion.


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Facebook Dating lands in Europe as singles look for love in lockdown

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LONDON — Facebook announced Thursday that it has expanded its dating service to Europe, a little over a year after it launched in the U.S.

The platform, known simply as “Facebook Dating,” is designed to help Facebook users find partners through things they have in common such as interests, events and groups. Those wanting to opt-in to the service, which has a dedicated space in the Facebook app, must set up a Facebook Dating profile.

Once registered, Facebook users can share personal “Stories” on their dating profile, as well as Stories from their main Facebook or Instagram account.”(assume end quote here?)

There’s also a “Secret Crush” feature that enables users to select up nine Facebook friends or Instagram followers that they’re interested in. If one of those people also selects you as their crush then a match is generated. Here is a bit more on how it all works.

Julia Portelly, a 26-year-old PR consultant, told CNBC that she’ll definitely have a “poke around” the new dating service despite not using Facebook much these days. “I’m wondering if they [Facebook] will bring something completely new to the game, or just pinch features and repurpose them?” she said.

PR consultant Julia Portelly says she plans to “poke around” on Facebook Dating.

Julia Portelly

Another dating app user said: “I don’t use Facebook much anymore and I don’t know if I trust their ability to check people’s identities, so probably not for me.”

Unlike other dating services such as Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble, the Facebook Dating feature is completely free to use, with no premium offering.

A single male teacher in his early 30s told CNBC: “So many services these days taunt you with potential matches but then hide them behind paywalls. Set love free I say — I’m ready for Facebook to help set this straight.”

Dating has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, with lockdowns and social distancing measures making in-person dates difficult in countries around the world. Politicians have faced tricky questions on the matter, with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week saying “sex indoors” is banned for couples living in separate households in certain parts of the country.

Facebook said it is in the process of rolling out a feature that will allow singles who have matched on Facebook Dating to have video chats.

First announced at Facebook’s F8 developer conference in May 2018, the dating feature launched in the U.S. in September 2019, immediately sending shares in Match, which owns dating app Tinder, down 4.5%. The service is now available in 52 countries worldwide including 32 in Europe.

Facebook claims that the platform has generated 1.5 billion matches across 20 countries since it launched. The company did not immediately respond when CNBC asked how many of its users have opted-in to Facebook Dating.

Shaz Younas, chief executive and founder of Muslim dating app muzmatch, said Facebook Dating has been a bit of a “non-event” so far.

“Match group stock dipped when it was announced but quickly recovered,” said Younas, a former investment banker with Morgan Stanley. “Facebook branding isn’t great, but it cannot be underestimated.”

“Facebook’s ability to match . . . individuals based on their actual behavior is unparalleled. That is a real edge for them that no one can match. Even if 1% of their userbase uses it, that is still a wildly successful product purely based on their size. That said, as has been shown in the dating world, dating app members are often on multiple platforms, so anything to normalise people using dating app products only helps the sector too.”


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Airbnb teaming up with former Apple design boss Jony Ive

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SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 03: Apple chief design officer Jony Ive (L) uses an iPad.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Former Apple Chief Design Officer Jony Ive will consult with Airbnb on hiring and future products, the company announced on Wednesday.

Ive is best known for being Apple’s longtime head of industrial design and an icon in Silicon Valley. He led teams that designed the iPod, iPhone, and Apple Watch before leaving the company last summer to start an independent design firm named LoveFrom, which counts Apple as a client.

Ive and LoveFrom will help Airbnb over a period of multiple years to design new products and services, as well as hire designers for an internal team, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in a blog post.

“Jony and I have been good friends for many years, and he has been gracious enough to provide me with guidance and advice,” Chesky wrote. “We share the same belief in the value and importance of creativity and design.”

Chesky is notable among Silicon Valley founders for going to Rhode Island School of Design, where he majored in industrial design. Previously, Ive wrote an entry for Time magazine lauding Chesky and praising his background as a designer.

Airbnb struggled in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, as lockdowns across the world curtailed travel plans, and the company laid off 25% of its staff in May. However, the company has since seen a resurgence in demand as city residents with the option to work remotely started booking stays in rural locations.

Airbnb said in August that it confidentially filed for an IPO. Reuters reported earlier this month that Airbnb is hoping to raise $3 billion in its IPO, which is expected to be one of the biggest stock market listings in 2020.


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