France’s StopCovid tracing app available as country reopens

  • Mobile apps
  • Tuesday, 02 Jun 2020

The French app StopCovid, meant to trace the virus' future spread, May 29. France is the first major democracy to roll out such an app, and many people fear it invades their privacy. — AP

France’s contact-tracing app, which the government hopes will prevent a resurgence of Covid-19 as lockdown measures ease, will be available to download on June 2. They just have to get people to use it.

StopCovid will be available to download at noon in Paris in the Apple Inc and Android app stores, the government said. Downloading it is voluntary, and it will act as a supplement for human tracers who will manually go through an infected person’s contacts.

Countries around the world are relying on the apps to help notify people quickly when they’ve been exposed to the virus and help prevent a resurgence as offices, restaurants and schools begin to reopen. Still, fewer than half of French people an Odoxa poll for France Info radio said they are ready to download the program.

"From the first downloads, the app helps avoid contamination, illness and thus deaths, ” Digital Minister Cedric O said in an interview on France Inter radio on June 1. "So there is no minimum threshold for the app’s efficiency. Of course, the more people have the app, the better, but there is no threshold to make it efficient. It speeds the tracing process.”

A University of Oxford study estimated that about 80% of smartphone users need to participate in the program for it to suppress the disease, the equivalent of 56% of the general population. But infections can be reduced significantly even with fewer downloads. One infection can be prevented with every one or two users, it said.

O warned on France Inter radio that the virus is still a threat and urged people to use the technology "for the collective benefit”, as cafes, parks and restaurants reopen with the easing of most lockdown measures on June 2.

The program is a home-grown solution designed by a state-led task force, including the leading phone carrier Orange SA, software company Dassault Systemes SE, as well as Inria, the institute for research in digital science and technology.

The app was approved last week by lawmakers and the privacy watchdog after a debate about how user data, which will be sent to health authorities, will be used and protected.

StopCovid will use Bluetooth technology, alerting users if they spend more than 15 minutes within a metre of someone carrying the virus. The French app, which is similar to one being developed in the UK, is designed by national players, unlike the apps in Switzerland and Germany, which are based on a platform jointly developed by Apple and Alphabet Inc’s Google. – Bloomberg

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