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How did the French government get my phone number?

Millions of people have received an SMS encouraging them to download the Covid-19 tracing application

1 December 2020
The French government also sent a text message to people earlier this year to warn about lockdown measures
By Connexion journalist

Reader question: I received a text message from the French government asking me to download the Covid app. How did they get my number? Is it legal?

Since Sunday, November 29, millions of people in France have received a text message from the government asking them to download TousAntiCovid, especially with shops reopening. 

This means of mass communication via text message was also used by the government back in March during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, to warn about lockdown measures.  

It is legal and your private information has not been compromised. 

Telephone operators in France are obliged to broadcast messages from the authorities to their subscribers to warn the population of imminent dangers or a major disaster. This is stated in the Code des Postes et des Communications Électroniques.

It is not an unusual way for governments to circulate information. In Japan, for example, where earthquakes are common, authorities can send alert messages directly to mobile phone users. 

As in March, the French government will have submitted this message to the country’s mobile operators (Orange, Bouygues Telecom, SFR and Free), so that they can distribute it to their users, with no number assigned. It is not possible to reply to the message. 

Your phone number and private information will not have been seen or sent to the government, Alexandre Archambault, a lawyer specialising in telecoms and digital issues, told newspaper Libération

The message was only sent out to adults and to numbers linked to real people, not companies etc. 

If you have not yet received the message, it is probably because it takes a bit of time for the operators to send them all out, given the number of people. 

Below is a translation of the message that people have received, which was written in French.

“Shops are reopening and more people will cross paths. To keep the epidemic under control, the Ministry of Health recommends that you download the TousAntiCovid application now.

“More than 10 million French people already use it. They are alerted earlier in case of contact with the virus and have access to a test.”

The message contained a slight error as an accent did not appear over the word tôt (early). 

This is reportedly related to a problem with the coding behind the message. 

TousAntiCovid

France’s Covid-19 tracing app was relaunched on October 22 after the first version failed to take off. 

To date, over 10 million people have downloaded TousAntiCovid. France’s minister for the digital sector, Cédric O, has said he is targeting 15 million users, or 20% of the population.

As for the SMS’s claim that users of the app will have access to a Covid-19 test, this is slightly misleading, but still true. 

Everyone in France has access to a Covid-19 test.

However, if a user of the app receives a notification saying they are a contact case of someone positive with the virus, the app user will then be given priority to get a test. 

This means a shorter waiting time to have a test.

Read more:

Too many users impact launch of new French Covid app

Will French airlines demand passengers get Covid vaccine?

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