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COVID-19: Obstacle in iOS delays release of France’s contact-tracing app

France says that a technical obstacle in iOS is preventing its government contact-tracing app from working properly. The country is calling on Apple to lift privacy protections that are currently in their operating system. At the moment, it appears that Apple is preventing contacting-tracing apps from running Bluetooth in the background when data is moved off the device.

The country and the European Union want to, instead, feed the data to a central server, managed by state health services, which would alert users if they come into contact with a person infected by COVID-19, and plan to launch their app by 11th May.

“We’re asking Apple to lift the technical hurdle to allow us to develop a sovereign European health solution that will be tied our health system. Ministers have discussed their concerns with Apple, but aren’t making progress,” said French Digital Minister Cedric O.

Apple, however, responded by pointing to its original joint statement with Google, explaining that new application programming interfaces (APIs) will be available in May to enable contact-tracing in third-party apps. Apple and Google are developing their own contact-tracing technology, designed to protect user privacy, launching a ‘comprehensive solution’ that encompasses APIs and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing.

The contact-tracing technology developed by Apple and Google will only be available to public health authorities, including the French government. The issue right now appears to be that the country doesn’t want to wait until those APIs are available. France wants to use their own contact-tracing application, and Apple is standing in their way. Currently (21st April), France has a total of 114,657 confirmed cases. 37,409 people have recovered, but the total death count is 20,265.

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The French app has been developed by Inria, the government entity in charge of technological research. Their Parliament will discuss the app on the 28th April, but members won’t get to decide whether to modify its implementation. Users will download it on a voluntary basis, but more details about France’s solution are unclear.

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