nhs track and trace app
© Leon Neal | Getty Images
Who in their right mind would want to download Matt Hancock's track and trace app, which has finally made its way off the Isle of Wight and is available all over England today?

My reluctance is not just down to the government's lousy record with technology - to judge by the booking system for Covid tests it won't be long before baffled Aberdonians who haven't left their city for six months start getting texts telling them to self-isolate on the grounds that the system tracked them standing next to someone in a bar in Putney. It is more that I don't see what is in it for me to volunteer to be fined £10,000.

The incentive structure which Hancock has created is bizarre. He is relying on our public-spiritedness to download the app -- telling us that for every person who downloads it we will be a little bit safer.

But then he is threatening to use the full weight of the law to punish people who lapse after having been told by the app to self-isolate. One little walk, one little trip down the park and that app will presumably be capable of catching you out and springing you with a fine.

It is rather as if the Stasi had asked people to volunteer to be spied upon. Herr Schmidt, would you like an officer to be stationed outside your flat for 24 hours a day, to help make us all safer from capitalist imperialism? To which I think the answer would probably have been no. Indeed, I suspect such an invitation would have encouraged Herr Schmidt to get on with tunnelling his way out to West Berlin pronto.

Or maybe I am wrong. The Germans have proven to be the keenest citizens in Europe to download their own country's Covid app, which was introduced on 16 July. Even so, only 22 per cent of the population have bothered to do so - barely a third of the government's 60 percent target.

That target was based on an Oxford University study which concluded that a take-up rate of 56 percent to be effective in suppressing the virus. No country which has launched such an app has achieved remotely close to this figure. Even in Singapore, which made it a legal requirement for workers to download its app, only one citizen in three has actually done so.

The 56 percent figure, needless to say, assumes that the app actually works. This is not the experience of the German app, which has been found not to work very well on moving trains and buses. These are surely closed environments where the virus is especially likely to spread. There is little point in tracking people who sit next to each other in beer gardens, where even a light breeze will quickly disperse the virus, if you are not tracing them in indoor situations.

What really bugged me about Matt Hancock's appeal on the Today programme this morning was that he told us it would make our lives 'easier'. I know that the health secretary - whose family business is in software -- seems to think that all the world's problems can be solved by our smartphones in some way. But how can it be easier to get out my phone and try to download some fiddly app than it is to do nothing whatsoever?

Indeed, that is the conclusion I came to when I found myself in a Wetherspoon's pub where the only way to order dinner seemed to be via the company's app - which, of course, I would first have to download, which in itself required me to fill in a load of questions to access the pub's wifi. No thanks.

I walked out and went to the Indian restaurant down the road where I was allowed to order from something terribly old-fashioned but still remarkably functional: a paper menu.