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France Releases Contact-Tracing StopCovid App

A screenshot showing the tracking application StopCovid is seen on a mobile phone in this illustration picture taken in Nantes, France, June 2, 2020.

French citizens are among the first to be able to download the government-sponsored StopCovid app as the government begins coronavirus contact tracing through cell phones.

The release of the public health StopCovid app Tuesday coincides with phase three of the government’s re-opening plan, during which restaurants, high schools and universities once again welcome students and patrons.

The coronavirus has claimed nearly 29,000 French lives. Using a Bluetooth signal from cell phones, the app collects the presence of nearby anonymous users. If an individual tests positive, the app notifies those they were in close contact with for a minimum of 15 minutes so they can take the proper health protocols.

Other EU nations are developing similar apps in the hopes that they will mitigate COVID-19 flare-ups as the bloc’s economies begin to re-open.

The Euronews television channel reported in May that the continent was in disagreement over best practices for a pan-European app, with Switzerland and Spain exiting the initiative due to privacy concerns and Germany seeking assistance from tech giants Apple and Google.

France and Britain reportedly rejected external backing, preferring to develop their own tech infrastructure.

The French system differs from software jointly developed by Apple and Google in that it stores user information on a centralized, government-run server, rather than storing the data directly on mobile phones.

The French government denies claims from critics that the app mimics a surveillance state.

“The problem with a centralized protocol is that you have to be confident and to trust your state but we’re in a democratic state, we have checks and balances,” Cédric O, France’s junior minister for the digital economy, told the AP.

An article in Le Monde newspaper published May 29 stated that officials preferred not to leave the security of citizen’s data to private firms, necessitating the need for a centralized, government-run system.

The government says the app does not utilize location tracking and deletes user data after 14 days, the amount of time it takes the virus to exhibit symptoms.

The project’s website listed transparency, regard for public health, and the respect and protection of an individual’s privacy as a top priority.

Although use of the app overwhelming passed the upper body of parliament last week, some lawmakers expressed apprehension, citing additional security concerns and fears that the app would not be effective if the population does not use it.