French digital technology minister Cedric O says Apple is lowering the effectiveness of its COVID-19 contact-tracking app by not allowing it to have background app access to Bluetooth.
France is expected to begin testing its COVID-19 app “StopCovid” on May 11, coinciding with the planned relaxing of lockdown rules affecting the European country. A public release is expected to happen on June 2.
Tuesday saw the government publicly attack Apple, pushing it to change its “privacy-first” policies ahead of the app’s launch.
“Apple could have helped us make the application work even better on the iPhone,” said France minister for digital technology Cedric O to BFM Business TV, reports Reuters. “They have not wished to do so.”
Many countries are using an Apple/Google API that would protect a user’s privacy while working in the background to detect if a user has been exposed to COVID-19. However, some countries, including France and the United Kingdom, have decided to develop an app independent of Apple and Google’s efforts.
France has previously asked Apple to relax its policy regarding Bluetooth usage by apps, possibly harming users’ privacy.
Cedric attempted to shame Apple’s attempts to protect the privacy of its users during the interview, by using the tried-and-true “evil corporation” approach, saying “I regret this, given that we are in a period where everyone is mobilized to fight against the epidemic, and given that a large company that is doing so well economically is not helping out a government in this crisis.”
O claimed he just couldn’t explain why Apple was unwilling to help over the Bluetooth situation.
Apple has long blocked background access to Bluetooth for apps running on its iOS devices, due to the security and privacy implications that are involved in such background app access. The COVID-19 contact detection API being developed jointly by Apple and Google take that into account, as the solution controls how Bluetooth is being used and does not use a central server for detection purposes. This is something the France and U.K. solutions do not do.
The minister took another swipe at Apple by downplaying the company’s importance in the COVID-19 fight, claiming “We consider that oversight of the healthcare system, fighting the coronavirus, is a matter for governments and not necessarily for big American companies.”