France to release ‘more interactive’ StopCovid app

The new track and trace app is being launched in France on October 22 after only 2.6 million people downloaded the first version.

13 October 2020
A screenshot of the StopCovid app in France. France is to release a ‘more interactive’ StopCovid appThe French StopCovid app has been downloaded 2.6 million times, but has not been considered a success
By Hannah Thompson

A new, “more interactive, dynamic and effective” version of the StopCovid track and trace app is set to be released in France on October 22.

Why, and how will it differ from the first version? We explain.

First version less successful than hoped

The first version of the app was released on June 2. It was intended to monitor interactions between users via Bluetooth, and send an anonymised alert if someone they had been in contact with - meaning, within one metre of them for 15 minutes or more - was later diagnosed with Covid-19.

Overall, the app has not been considered a success, and has been installed just 2.6 million times in France. This is compared to the counterpart apps being used in the UK (16 million downloads) and in Germany (18 million).

Junior digital affairs minister Cédric O has said that the application was not working “well”, in the sense that it had not been widely accepted by the public due to a “lack of confidence”.

Is the new app completely different?

No, but it has been described as a major update to the current version, and more “dynamic and interactive”.

It may change its name, from the current StopCovid to AlerteCovid (and not "TéléCovid", as Prime Minister Jean Castex said in error last week). This has still not been confirmed for sure, however, as “AlerteCovid” is also the name of the Canadian app, so this change could cause confusion.

Technologically, there will be no change. The app will be downloaded, stored and updated in the same way as before - on your smartphone.

The time after which you will receive an alert could now change from 15 minutes to five minutes, with this still set to be confirmed by Santé Publique France.

What about my data?

The new app will use the same data collection system as before - an anonymised centralised system created by INRIA, the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation. This is in contrast to other versions, including those used in the UK and Germany, which use the decentralised protocol by companies Apple and Google. France refused to use this.

Mr O has this week repeated that “StopCovid has taken steps to protect the data of its users, and does not use, in any case, geolocation”.

All data collected by the app is anonymised, and even if an alert is sent to one of your contacts, it will not identify who has Covid, who was in contact with them, where, or when.

 

How will the new app be used?

The app may be used in future by the government to share information on Covid-19, the Prime Minister said, as a way to make it more interactive and efficient.

Currently - except in case of an infection alert - once it is installed, it stays almost silent and out of sight, which means that it may be easy to forget about it.
But the government has ruled out the sending of “local alerts” - for example, if cases of Covid-19 were rising in a certain area.

In contrast, there could soon be QR codes displayed at the entrance of bars, restaurants, shops and sports halls, which the app can scan to become even more effective at tracing cases. This would also remove the need for businesses to collect client data manually, as they do currently.

This QR code system is used in countries including the UK. It collects the time, date, and data of the visiting customer, so the establishment can contact them in future in case of a possible spread.

Do I have to use different apps when travelling?

Yes. Currently the apps from each separate country do not interact with each other or share data, so if you need to travel between countries you are advised to download the app specific to the country you are in.

Is the app obligatory?

No. It is recommended, but not mandatory, even for businesses that are open to the public.

Mr O said: “Downloading it will stay on a voluntary basis.”

Anything else we should know?

This will have almost no impact on the user experience of the app, but the government has opened the app’s maintenance project to competitors this week. Until now, it has been operated by CapGemini, without charge.

The maintenance of the app is said to cost €200,000-300,000 per month, according to news source L’Obs in June.

And, this time, Prime Minister Castex has said that he intends to download the app and use it. He admitted that he had not downloaded the previous version.

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