French digital minister Cedric O.

  • French digital minister Cedric O attacked Apple during an interview on Tuesday, saying the tech giant has been uncooperative in helping France to build its contact-tracing app.
  • The app is due to launch on June 2, and although O said it will work on all devices, he added: "Apple could have helped us to make sure the app would work even better on iPhones."
  • France opted not to use Apple and Google's specialized contact-tracing API, preferring to build an app that centralizes user data and thus is not eligible for the API.
  • The UK has similarly opted out of using Apple and Google's contact-tracing technology, raising security and privacy worries about its app.
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France's digital minister Cedric O attacked Apple during an interview on Tuesday, saying the company could have helped France build its contact-tracing app, but chose not to.

France's app, called StopCovid, is due to launch on June 2. Like many similar apps being developed the world over, it will use Bluetooth to keep a log of which phones have been in each other's proximity. If a user reports themselves as having coronavirus symptoms, the app will send an alert to other users who have been in their vicinity.

Although O insisted the app will work on all devices, he attacked Apple for apparently refusing to help make it function better on iPhones.

"Apple could have helped us to make sure the app would work even better on iPhones. They didn't want to do it," O told BFM TV.

"I think it's regrettable at a moment where everyone is mobilizing to fight against the epidemic that a large company, which has never been in a stronger position economically, is not helping a government to fight against the crisis," said O.

"We will remember this when the time comes," O added.

Apple was not immediately available for comment on O's remarks when contacted by Business Insider.

O was not specific on exactly where Apple has been uncooperative, but it's likely to have something to do with Bluetooth.

The trouble with Bluetooth

Apple and Google have co-ordinated on contact-tracing technology to help governments and public health authorities roll out apps to monitor the spread of the coronavirus. The unprecedented pairing is partly down to the fact the two giants monopolize smartphone software, and partly because they want governments to take as privacy-friendly an approach their apps as possible. Specifically, they have stipulated that apps using their API must be decentralised, processing data on the device rather than a centralized government server.

France has opted not to use Apple and Google specialized contact-tracing API as a result. The UK has taken a similar route, the logic being that centralised data gives them greater flexibility to analyze people's data and use it for research.

Without using the new API developed by Apple and Google France is reliant on the usual set of APIs which govern software development for apps. This poses a particular problem for iPhones, as ordinarily, apps on iPhone are not able to actively transmit Bluetooth signals while running in the background.

France, the UK, and originally Germany until it changed approach, had all lobbied Apple and Google to permit their centralized apps to work. Judging by O's remarks, that hasn't been successful.

The UK is in the process of rolling out its contact-tracing app, and security experts are watching its launch for expected functionality and privacy issues.

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