France: reopened and ready to trace

France: reopened and ready to trace

France rolled out an official coronavirus contact-tracing app.

As the French government started allowing people to once again go to cafes, parks, restaurants, beaches, and museums, StopCovid app launched Tuesday.

StopCovid is an app aimed at containing fresh outbreaks as lockdown restrictions gradually ease, becoming the first major European country to deploy the smartphone technology amid simmering debates over data privacy. According to the Associated Press, it is now available on Apple’s App store and the Google Play store. Authorities hope the app can help manage virus flare-ups as they reopen the economy in France, which has been living under some of Europe’s tightest restrictions since it became one of countries hardest hit by the pandemic, with nearly 29,000 deaths.

The various European apps use low-energy Bluetooth signals to anonymously log the nearby presence of other users. Under the French system, data is uploaded to government-run centralized servers. Users who test positive will be able to notify others who have been in close contact for at least 15 minutes so they can self-isolate and seek treatment.

Countries like Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and the U.K. are prepring their own COVID-tracing apps with different technical protocols in an attempt to prepare for people going out once again to public spaces, however, raising questions about compatibility across Europe’s borders.

Five foundations guide the developments, per Inria:

  • The inclusion of the StopCovid application in the overall strategy for managing the health crisis and epidemiological monitoring.
  • Strict compliance with the data protection and privacy framework at national and European level, as defined in particular by French law and the RGPD, as well as the toolbox recently defined by the European Commission on proximity monitoring applications.
  • Transparency, which notably involves the dissemination, under an open source licence, of the specific work carried out within the framework of the project. The objective is to provide all the guarantees: transparency of the algorithms, open code in the long term, interoperability, auditability, security and reversibility of the solutions.
  • Respect for the principles of digital sovereignty of the public health system: control of health choices by French and European society, protection and structuring of health data assets to guide the response to the epidemic and accelerate medical research.

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