Why UK coronavirus apps are more popular than France’s

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England and Wales launched their new coronavirus tracking app, NHS Covid-19, just over a week ago and it has already been downloaded more than 12 million times.In addition, the StopCOVID NI app from Northern Ireland and the Protect Scotland app from Scotland, which were launched earlier, were also downloaded over 300,000 times and 1 million times respectively.

In the four months since the release of France’s own StopCovid app, it has been downloaded around 2.4 million times.

This represents 3.6% of the French population. The COVID-19 Monitoring and Liaison Committee, which serves as a bridge between civil society groups and the government on coronavirus-related issues, said that for the app to be truly useful, it must be downloaded by au less 30 for 40% of the population ”.

Within a week, the NHS Covid-19 was downloaded by around 20% of the population.

French Minister for Digital Transition Cédric O said more work was needed to convince the French population to download the app.

There can be many reasons why there is a popularity gap between the two apps.

Culture

One reason for the difference in popularity could be culture, suggested Jérôme Colombain, tech journalist and author of Should We Leave Social Media (If We Leave Social Media).

“Where the French saw a gadget or a totalitarian thing, the British took the application for what it is: a civic tool,” he wrote on Twitter.

Alexandre Lebrun, founder of technology-driven healthcare platform Nabla, tweeted in response:

“The British are very respectful of the NHS, which has long had its own ‘app store’ with audited health apps. Beyond cultural differences, etc., the starting context is therefore very different.

StopCovid’s reputation took another blow when French Prime Minister Jean Castex admitted on television that he had not downloaded the app. Mr Castex had to self-isolate in September while in contact with Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme, who tested positive for the virus.

Mr Castex said: “StopCovid is useful if you are taking the metro… but alas I did not use [the Metro] for a long time. “

Functionality

StopCovid and NHS Covid-19 have the same goal: to alert users to the possibility of being in close contact with someone who is infected with the coronavirus.

To do this, apps rely on Bluetooth technology, sending warnings to users if they’ve been in close contact with a positive case.

NHS Covid-19, however, has a number of other features.

It can also be used for check-in at places, such as restaurants or bars. An alert is then sent to the user of the app if it turns out that an HIV-positive person with coronavirus has visited the location at a similar time.

The app also allows users to check their symptoms, as a basic way to self-diagnose the coronavirus.

Users can also book a coronavirus test through the app, and while self-isolating is recommended, they can use the app to set a timer and count the number of days they need to put on. in quarantine.

These functions mean that NHS Covid-19 can be effective even without activating the Bluetooth tracing feature. The French application is based on the fact that the user keeps his bluetooth activated at all times to search for other users in the region.

Privacy

The two applications are based on very different approaches.

NHS Covid-19 was built in collaboration with Apple and Google and uses a decentralized approach. Simply put, this means that the data collected by the app is not stored in one place.

Unlike many other European countries, France rejected this approach and designed the app without the help of the US tech giants, using a centralized approach.

This has led some groups to worry about user privacy.

In April, Amnesty International published a report calling for “greater vigilance” by adopting the StopCovid app.

“Digital surveillance measures raise important questions about how we collect, store, use and share our personal data. To date, the French government has not provided enough details about the StopCovid application to ensure that its use is respectful of human rights, ”the report notes.

The French government rejects this criticism by affirming: “StopCovid is part of the values ​​of the Republic and falls within the framework of the protection of privacy. Under no circumstances will you be able to identify who has been near you or who is sick. StopCovid is based on current research in epidemiology, cybersecurity and privacy. ”

Earlier this year, the UK tested an app based on a centralized approach, but ultimately abandoned it.

The government says that with the NHS Covid-19 app, “no personal data is shared with the government or the NHS”.

“The system generates a random identifier for an individual’s device, which can be exchanged between devices via Bluetooth (not GPS). These unique random identifiers regenerate frequently to add an additional layer of security and maintain anonymity.

“The app does not contain personal information such as your name, address or date of birth, and only requires the first half of your postcode to ensure local outbreaks can be managed,” says the UK government.

An academic study published in May that looked at both approaches said there were benefits and risks for both.

“Centralized systems protect against malicious users, but a malicious server could abuse the system by potentially re-identifying and tracking user locations.

“Conversely, decentralized systems make public the ephemeral Bluetooth identifiers of those diagnosed, which could lead to mass surveillance by any malicious individual,” the study said.

Compatibility

The French government said interoperability – two or more different applications that can work together – is under consideration.

He said that France is actively participating in the work carried out by the European Commission.

In mid-September, the Commission launched trials between applications from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Latvia.

In the meantime, France advises citizens who travel or work abroad to use both the French app and the country’s local app, if it has one.

Login has contacted the UK government to ask how to use the app overseas and is awaiting a response. This article will be updated accordingly when the return is received.

Learn more about StopCovid:

StopCovid: your feedback on the contact tracing app

More than a million use the French StopCovid application

Controversial StopCovid app now available in France

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