The criticism comes two weeks after a historic collaboration between the two companies to build a technology for digital contact tracking applications, which would track contacts between users in order to slow the spread of Covid-19.
The collaboration allows the two companies’ phones to work together, but also sets strict limits on the data that can be returned to public health authorities. These are the limits that France wants to lift, said French Minister of Digital, Cédric O, in an interview with Bloomberg News.
“We are asking Apple to remove the technical barrier to allow us to develop a sovereign European healthcare solution that will be linked to our healthcare system,” said O.
Contact tracking applications that do not comply with the new privacy requirements can still be created, but they face strict limits, especially on Apple phones. They do not work while in the background, such as when another application or game is in use on the phone, or when the screen is completely locked.
Some countries have progressed despite the limitations: the TraceTogether contact tracking application from Singapore, for example. Others, including the UK, have expressed concern in private, while publicly maintaining friendly relations with the two tech companies.
However, French intervention could encourage others to bring their differences to light. At the heart of the criticism is the question of who has the power to decide the best balance between user privacy and effective contact tracing: tech companies or public health organizations.
France wants to deploy its application by May 11, without using the special measures put in place by Apple and Google, whose release is scheduled for “mid-May”. This means that the country will be forced to use the more limited features already built into iOS, unless Apple changes its policies and allows much more invasive use of Bluetooth radio at the heart of its devices.
For the two tech companies, there is a second set of compromises: all the tools they offer to a government must be offered to each government. This is why they seek to maintain a high level of confidentiality at all levels and not to offer refusals.