After weeks of controversy over digital freedoms and respect for privacy, the France launches Tuesday StopCovid, app for tracking health. It will be followed by other States in Europe. Tour of the world of software tracing, more or less intrusive depending on the country.
“StopCovid contributes to your protection and that of others”, one can read in the description of the platform. While France between Tuesday 2 June in a new phase of the déconfinement, the government is launching at noon this application used to trace people infected with the new coronavirus. Like other countries affected by the Covid-19, France put on a tracing tool on a smartphone in order to limit the spread of the virus.
The French government indicated that the operation of StopCovid is “no id” and “temporary”. Its installation is on a voluntary basis, and the application uses Bluetooth and not the GPS of the device to alert its users when they have crossed an infected person.
The use of such a technology debate in Europe and elsewhere. It is based on personal data, including the use and operation vary from country to country. In France, the defender of digital freedoms point the finger at the “legitimation of the monitoring of our body in public space”, like the denounces the association La Quadrature du Net.
Thirty countries have adopted tracking technologies health for several weeks, at different scales of intrusion and coercion.
In China, where a rating system of the population is deployed for the past two years, the individuals are sorted according to a color code with an application that was developed by the giant of e-commerce Alibaba. At the end of February, Alipay Health Code grants to each user a QR code green, yellow or red, depending on its location data.
A person who attended a person or a place regarded as risky is assigned a QR code to yellow or red. In some cities, such as Hangzhou, for example, the transfers are conditioned to the obtaining of the color green.
The New York Times has dissected the computer code of the application. It appears that the tool transmits information to the chinese police, allowing him to identify and locate geographically a user.
South Korea is one of the first countries to be hit by a wave of contagion. It is also among those who have avoided the containment generalized by imposing a tracing by GPS to its nearly 10 000 patients. Telephone operators have provided directly to the Center for control and prevention of diseases, the location of the patients.
Today, the authorities control in real time the persons placed in quarantine. According to the AFP, an offender has been sentenced to 4 months imprisonment at the end of may.
The service of internal security of israel, the Shin Bet, has been authorized by the government to organize the digital tracking of the spread of the new coronavirus. It has therefore developed a programme of monitoring of infected persons from the GPS data from their phone but also through the tracing of their credit card.
This program, which does not appeal to a smartphone app specific, has aroused controversy in Israel, as the cabinet of Benjamin Netanyahu had wanted to enlist in the israeli law. The israeli supreme Court ruled on may 27, by allowing the continuation of this project. The Parliament must now approve its use “in special cases”.
Downloaded by barely a quarter of the population, or 1.5 million people, the application of tracing singaporean, TraceTogether, was a flop. A study from the university of Singapore was, however, concluded that the population was ready to “accept to give up a little privacy to fight the Covid-19”. Since the 1er June, some immigrant workers, particularly those living in dormitories, have the obligation to connect to TraceTogether.
The authorities have also launched the portal SoftEntry. Generator QR code that gives access to certain public places that by filling the personal information.
The application of the british national health system (NHS), similar to the French system, has been tested for three weeks on the isle of Wight in the English Channel, on the basis of volunteering. Each user, and therefore every passer-by, has a series of numbers for one particular id. This code is exchanged between the smartphone when two people cross paths and it is stored in their phones for a period of 28 days.
According to the magazine The Wire, the application is programmed for a function that is very limited. “Nothing happens except when one of the users reports that he has symptoms of coronavirus,” says the publication. Among the data collected : “the first digits of the postal code”, “the type of phone used,” and “the strength of the Bluetooth signal”.
The approach to british and French is called “centralized” because the anonymised data collected are stored on central servers. On the isle of Wight, and from the month of June in the rest of the United Kingdom, these information are sent to the NHS, which decides if an alert to other smartphones crusaders for an extended period of time is necessary.
Another approach to tracing applications of the Covid-19, so-called “decentralized”, is to store the data only in the smartphones of users. This is the case of the application Immuni, developed by the company Bending Spoons, which will be launched in Italy sometime in June.
Based on the Bluetooth technology, it differs in the way to alert the users. The application will automatically warn the user if there has been contact with a malicious code, without going through the health services.
If this method is used to remove the fears of “Big Brother”, it worries about its dependence vis-à-vis Apple and Google, the two giants have proposed a common solution for tracing social on a decentralized model. Paris had refused this option, citing a question of “national sovereignty”. Germany is row behind the decentralized model, as in most european countries.
In Italy, Francesco Paolo Micozzi, a lecturer on the digital at the university of Perugia, has explained the limits of the device to the AFP : in order for the application Immuni to be really effective, it would have to be downloaded by 60 % of Italians… almost all owners of smartphones in the country.