France’s tech companies continue the struggle with Google and Apple over Coronavirus tracing app

France’s tech companies continue the struggle with Google and Apple over Coronavirus tracing app

FRENCH tech experts are seeking to bypass Apple and Google for a smartphone app to help trace people infected with coronavirus.
The move, which leaves France relatively isolated in reflects differences in how such apps should be structured, who has access to sensitive data and their effectiveness.
Being dependent on Apple and Google means “staying in an extremely restrictive framework for usage” of the data, said a source close to France’s contract tracing effort.
These apps can be based either on a decentralised or centralised architecture.
A decentralised architecture keeps the information about whom a person has been in contact with on the smartphone. If the person declares themselves to have been infected by the coronavirus, then those people deemed to have been in close contact for an extended period receive a notification to isolate themselves and get tested.
In a centralised system the data is managed by an authority, say a national health service, that would have access to the data to ensure those who are exposed are indeed following the proper health and isolation recommendations.
Apple and Google banded together last month to develop coronavirus contact tracing technology that would work across their operating systems.

Numerous tech experts and privacy advocates prefer a decentralised option because of data privacy concerns and worries about governments establishing databases that could be used for surveillance after the pandemic.
But France contests that argument and prefers a centralised architecture that will provide them with the information needed to ensure the spread of the disease is effectively contained.
So far Apple has resisted pleas from France and other countries for help to get around that technical issue.
While the European Commission has not yet taken a formal position on the options, it acknowledges a decentralised system is better on data privacy grounds.
“If both approaches can be in conformity with data protection laws, from a point of view of minimising the collection of data, the decentralised approach is preferable as less data would be stored,” said Commission spokesman.
France hopes to have its app in operation on June 2, and the official leading its development has said it will work very well on an iPhone despite Apple’s lack of cooperation.

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Damon Mitchell

From the interviewed to the interviewer

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