France will launch its coronavirus contact tracking app as soon as it gets two parliamentary votes the following weekend.
The country’s Senate approved his release with a vote of 187-127 on Wednesday evening, following a previous vote by the National Assembly 338-115.
A bug bounty scheme will be run to encourage the public to help identify any defects in the software.
But critics say he suffers from “fundamentally imperfect design”.
The StopCovid app will complement the work already done by a French team of human contact tracers who are trying to identify people who are infected with the disease but are not aware of the fact.
The app works by using Bluetooth signals to detect when two laptops are in the immediate vicinity, in order to record an estimate of the distance and duration of the meeting.
France, like the United Kingdom, has opted for a “centralized” app, which performs contact matches on a server.
This contrasts with the “decentralized” model – an approach supported by Google and Apple – which plays games on users’ devices.
The main differences between the two are that centralized apps offer authorities more space to deepen the data collected to refine their approach to the fight against the pandemic, while decentralized ones in theory promise users a greater degree of anonymity and privacy.
The French government appealed to national pride for its decision to launch a proprietary solution.
As a result, it faces a system incompatible with neighboring Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
“This is a French project, with excellence but also panache and some would say the stubbornness that characterizes our country,” said Minister of Digital Affairs Cedric O.
“It is indeed a coincidence that 22 countries have used the Apple-Google API [application programming interface], but not France and Great Britain, which are the only two countries in Europe with their nuclear deterrent? “
The risk for the French government is that its decision to adopt the centralized model discourages members of the public from installing it.
The developers of the app acknowledged that although user identities are made anonymous before uploading their logs to the central server, it is still theoretically possible to identify them later.
This concerned civil rights activists.
“It could threaten the right to privacy and more generally the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly because it opens up a way to monitor the interactions of everyone who installs it,” said Amnesty International France.
Security researchers have also requested that the launch be delayed until a Bluetooth vulnerability, the full details of which have not yet been made public, is addressed. The issue does not affect apps based on the Apple-Google model.
The French government has, however, invited a select group of “ethical hackers” to verify the app code before its launch.
And has teamed up with the YesWeHack European Bug Reward Program, which will offer cash prizes to anyone who finds critical flaws in the program after its release.
Implementation in the UK
Initially, England planned to launch its NHS Covid-19 app nationwide to coincide with the start of calls by its team of human investigators Test and Trace.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock says he now wants to stagger the two and plans to roll out the app within the next two weeks.
Before then, NHSX is set up to perform a second phase of a software trial already underway on the Isle of Wight.
At the moment, the app is based solely on users’ self-diagnosis through a series of questions on the screen. The next stage of the test involves incorporating medical test results.
Other parts of the UK have yet to decide whether to deploy the same app locally or take a different approach.