France shames Apple for not sacrificing user privacy for the COVID-19 application

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By Malcolm Owen
Tuesday, May 05, 2020, 5:17 am PT (8:17 am ET)

The French government has accused Apple of reducing the effectiveness of its next COVID-19 contact tracking application, Minister of Digital Technology Cedric O, saying that Apple is not helping enough by preventing Bluetooth access from the application in the background.

French Minister of Digital, Cédric O

French Minister of Digital, Cédric O

France is preparing to test its COVID-19 “StopCovid” application on May 11, coinciding with the planned relaxation of the locking rules affecting the country, with a final public deployment scheduled for June 2. On Tuesday, the government launched a public attack on Apple in an attempt to change its policies before the app launches.

“Apple could have helped us run the app even better on the iPhone,” said French Minister of Digital Technology Cédric O to BFM Business TV, as reported by Reuters. “They didn’t want it. “

As is the case with the UK app and others, the French version is being developed independently of a collaborative effort announced between Apple and Google. The app requires the use of Bluetooth to communicate with other devices, but Apple prevents apps running in the background from being able to transfer Bluetooth data, making third-party efforts less effective in the long run.

Rather than using the Apple-Google API, which could potentially run in the background due to future integration into the iOS and Android operating systems, France wants Apple to soften its Bluetooth policy . The government had previously asked Apple to do so before April 20, followed by a similar request on April 30 by the carrier Orange, but so far Apple has refused to change its policy.

Cédric O tried to shame Apple in the interview, suggesting “I regret it, given that we are in a period when everyone is mobilized to fight the epidemic, and given that a large company that doing so well economically does not help a government in this crisis. The minister said he could not explain the reasoning behind Apple’s reluctance to help via Bluetooth.

Apple generally prevents Bluetooth access for background apps due to security and privacy implications, which is also taken into account in the API under development. As the API is based on the phone without using a central server and Apple and Google control the data that can be transmitted and received via Bluetooth via the API, this is considered to be a more private and secure method of accomplishing the same contact. tracking goal, without weakening Bluetooth security too much.

The minister went on to play down Apple’s importance in the fight against COVID-19, saying that “we consider that the surveillance of the health system, the fight against the coronavirus, is the responsibility of governments and not necessarily large American companies ”.



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