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France’s coronavirus contact tracing app might not be based on the Apple-Google standard

Published Apr 30th, 2020 6:50AM EDT
Coronavirus Contact Tracing
Image: Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock

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  • France’s coronavirus contact tracing app might not be based on the Apple-Google private standard.
  • The StopCovid app is still in the works and could be deployed in the near future.
  • Contradictory reports fuel confusion over France’s stance on the digital COVID-19 contact tracing app.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

Governments around the world are looking to slowly open economies now that several countries moved past the peak of the novel coronavirus disease. But questions remain on how to do it. Social distancing will not go away for good, and life won’t return back to normal. There’s still no drug to treat COVID-19, and some vaccines might be available this fall in a best-case scenario. And even then, the early vaccines might only be deployed in an emergency use manner. That’s why coronavirus testing will have to continue until there’s a cure, and contact tracing measures will need to be significantly improved to control outbreaks when the virus returns in a community.

Apple and Google created the basis of a privacy-friendly smartphone app that works on iPhone and Android to inform users that they may have been exposed to someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. However, not everyone is happy with the Apple-Google way of digitally tracing coronavirus contacts. The UK has already confirmed that it wants to go at it using a different type of Bluetooth-based app that allows it to keep user data on its own servers. Germany, on the other hand, ditched the less private approach and said that it will adopt the Apple-Google model that stores only a limited amount of data on central servers, data that doesn’t include any details that can identify users. France is the other major European holdout that might want to perform coronavirus contact tracing on its own. But it’s still unclear whether it’ll go forward with its own app, or use the Apple-Google API.

We’ve already explained how Apple and Google plan to protect your privacy, and the two tech giants made a few significant changes to the app, addressing both lingering privacy and scientific concerns. Some people wanted better privacy protections in place, while others wanted more features that would reduce the number of false-positive warnings. Since then, Apple released the first iPhone beta that includes the new contact tracing app, and we might soon see it in action in those countries that begin to trace contacts with the use of phones.

France’s plans are still unclear. A Euronews report on Wednesday said that “French MPs have approved the launch of a COVID-19 tracing app, as part of a wide-range set of measures for easing a national lockdown.”

The app in question is called StopCovid, and it will be “one of the first of its kind” to be launched in Europe. StopCovid is, of course, the app the French government built on its own, without the help of Apple and Google.

Meanwhile, TechCrunch reported on Tuesday that the France parliament postponed the debate of the contact-tracing app. French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said at the time that the app wasn’t ready yet and that it would be difficult to vet the advantages and risks of StopCovid.

“When the application currently in development is working, and before its release, we will hold a debate dedicated to StopCovid followed by a vote,” he said, after acknowledging the privacy worries about the app.

The French themselves seem to be confused on the matter. A StopCovid app is a hit on the French AppStore, ZDNet France reported on Thursday. However, this is an application developed for Georgia, to help local authorities trace the spread of the virus with the help of smartphones:

Like the application currently under study in France , it creates anonymous identifiers for each user and stores all the data locally on their device using strong encryption. Unlike the French application, its users can then decide if, when and what information they wish to publish. In addition, users can voluntarily donate their data to support scientific analysis and improve government decision-making.

With all that in mind, it’s nuclear what France will do to for contact tracing in the near future. But whatever the country decides, it may affect the policies of other EU members.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.