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Controversial StopCovid app now available in France

The track and trace smartphone app StopCovid is now available to download on Apple and Android smartphones in France.

The long-debated app became available to download in France at midday today (June 2), on the Apple App Store and Google Play (the Google app store).

Junior minister for digital affairs, Cédric O, who has been managing the development of the app, said: “From midday on Tuesday (June 2), the public will be able to find the app and download it. We are currently pushing the app into the Apple and Google stores.”

The app is intended to help track and trace cases of Covid-19, by alerting people if and when they may be at risk of having been in contact with someone who has later been diagnosed.

It uses Bluetooth technology to communicate with other smartphones that are within one metre of another smartphone, and records if the two are within this distance for longer than 15 minutes.

Read more: France StopCovid app: How it works and how to get it

Numbers required

Mr O said: “We need for the maximum number of people to have it...and we are aiming it at people who live in towns because they are most likely to spread the virus...especially people who take public transport, go to restaurants, or supermarkets at peak times.”

He added that the app was “almost an extra barrier method”, to be used just as much as hand-washing, using hand sanitiser gel, wearing a mask, or coughing into your elbow.

Yet, the junior minister did not reveal if the government had set a target for the number of downloads.

A study by Oxford University suggested that between 40-60% of the population - at least - would need to use the app to make it effective.

Free to develop

The government confirmed that the app had not cost the State anything, as the companies that worked on it - including French digital research institute INRIA - had done so for free.

Mr O also explained that the app would continue to be maintained and updated. He said: “From today, we are entering a more normal phase [of the app development]. We will need to maintain it and continue to host it...but the cost will not be more than a few hundred thousand euros per month.”

App controversy

The app has been controversial, and was the subject of several heated debates in the Assemblée Nationale and the French Senate, before it was eventually approved last week.

Despite criticisms that the app will infringe on personal freedom and privacy - including from Jean-Luc Mélenchon, head of the France Insoumise party, who voted against the app, calling it “ineffective” and a “freedom killer” - ministers in favour of its use say they have have sought to “guarantee” its safety.

Justice minister Nicole Belloubet said the app was “temporary, installed voluntarily, does not identify you, and is transparent [in how it works]”.

After the vote in the Senate, Mr O said: “[StopCovid] will be useful in the fight against the virus. Our only objective is to save lives.”

He had previously insisted that the app is not “a project to kill freedom”.


How does it work?

The app is voluntary, and anonymous. It will be available to download on both Apple and Android phones from your usual app store.

Beyond downloading it to your phone, it does not require you to input any personal details. It asks you to turn on Bluetooth, and accept notifications.

Then, when it registers that users (all of whom will need to have the app on their phones, have their phones with them at the time, and have Bluetooth turned on) have been within one metre of each other for at least 15 minutes, it will keep an anonymous note of this.

If one of the users is later diagnosed with Covid-19, that person will be given a QR code by their testing lab, which they can take a photo of with their phone, and let the app know they have been diagnosed.

Then, anyone who has been in contact with them will receive an alert via their own app. They will be invited to take precautions and be tested themselves if necessary.

But the app will not say who the ill person is, and will keep data encrypted and anonymous.

Related stories

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France to review Covid-19 trace app for June

French Senate votes ‘conditions’ on deconfinement bill

Covid contact tracing brigades in France: What we know

Covid-19 France: App may flag up infection risk

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