French carrier pressing Apple to loosen privacy protections for COVID app

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French telecom company Orange says that it is still in discussions with Apple over allowing its COVID-19 contact tracing app greater access to iOS core features, potentially risking users' privacy.

As Apple and Google's coronavirus contract tracing technology arrives for developers, France continues to hold out for its own system — and for Apple to allow it better iOS access. Apple has already refused to disable iOS security features for it, but now the head of telecoms firm Orange insists talks are still open.

"There are meetings almost every day. It's not a done deal yet," Orange CEO Stephane Richard told Reuters, "but we have a discussion dynamic with Apple that is not bad."

Germany had previously been backing a similar national app, and Richards says that claims the country has agreed to side with Apple and Google are simply not true. "Beware of statements we've heard," he said.

"The Germans are keeping a channel open," he continued. "They didn't choose one side versus another. The Germans are working on the two options at the moment. I am still hopeful everything will manage to converge quickly."

Apple and Google's system performs contact tracing and exposure notification primarily on-device, meaning that users' data is not stored in any central database. France's system requires that central database and, even within France itself, this is raising concerns about privacy.

Britain's NHS has opted to reject the Apple and Google system in favor of its own app because it, too, wants to collate data on central servers. The British system will start to launch "in the coming weeks," while Orange now says its French StopCovid app should be ready by the start of May.

 

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