France accuses Apple of refusing aid with the ‘StopCovid’ app

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PARIS (Reuters) – France accused Apple APPL.O on Tuesday of undermining its efforts to fight the coronavirus by refusing to help make its iPhones more compatible with a “StopCovid” contact search application.

FILE PHOTO: A medical staff member sends a message to her cell phone during a break while she is working in the intensive care unit (ICU) for patients with coronavirus (COVID-19) at the private hospital from the Estree Clinic in Stains near Paris, April 20, 2020. REUTERS / Benoit Tessier

Countries are rushing to develop smartphone apps, which are seen as a way to control the new coronavirus epidemic while reopening the economy.

The apps would use the Bluetooth feature, which allows phones to interact with nearby devices to help detect times when users come in contact with people potentially carrying the virus.

Apple iPhones normally block access to Bluetooth unless the user is actively running an application. French officials want Apple to change the settings to allow their app to access Bluetooth in the background, so it’s still on. So far, they say, Apple has refused.

“Apple could have helped us run the app even better on the iPhone. They did not wish to do so, “French Minister for Digital Cedric O told BFM Business TV.

“I regret it, given that we are in a period where everyone is mobilized to fight the epidemic, and given that a big company which is doing so economically well does not help a government in this crisis. “

“We will remember that when the time comes,” added the minister.

An Apple spokesperson in France declined to comment.

The issue of Bluetooth access on iPhones is one of many security-related questions that arise when countries try to deploy smartphone apps to fight coronavirus.

France, as well as other countries, wants to keep the contact data in a central database, arguing that this would facilitate the follow-up of suspected cases of coronavirus by the authorities.

Apple and Alphabet (GOOGL.OGoogle, responsible for operating systems on almost all smartphones, wants the data to be stored on the phones themselves, out of reach of the government, saying it would better protect user privacy.

O, the French minister, said he could not explain the reasoning behind Apple’s decision on Bluetooth.

“We believe that surveillance of the healthcare system, the fight against the coronavirus, is the responsibility of governments and not necessarily of large American companies,” he said.

The French minister said that the application should be ready to be deployed on June 2, regardless of Apple’s position, and would enter a test phase in the week of May 11, when the country begins to untie its lock .

In France, Apple’s mobile operating system accounted for 21.1% of the market in the first quarter, while Google’s Android represented 78.8%, according to a study by Kantar.

Britain, which uses the same centralized approach as France to store data, will begin testing its own COVID-19 tracking application on the Isle of Wight from Tuesday.

Report by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Michel Rose, additional report by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Peter Graff and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Our standards:Principles of the Thomson Reuters Trust.

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