France complains Apple’s Bluetooth privacy policy is blocking their COVID-19 contact-tracing plan

Apple’s iOS and iPadOS operating systems prevents contact-tracing apps using its Bluetooth technology from running constantly in the background if that data is going to be moved off of the device, a limit designed to protect users’ privacy. The limitation is standing in the way of a government contact-tracing app that France wants to build, Digital Minister Cedric O said.

Here’s an illustration of how the Apple – Google coronavirus contact tracing is proposed to work:
France contact-tracing. Apple and Google team on cross-platform COVID-19 contact tracing tool
Apple Google COVID. Apple and Google team on cross-platform COVID-19 contact tracing tool

Helene Fouquet for Bloomberg:

“We’re asking Apple to lift the technical hurdle to allow us to develop a sovereign European health solution that will be tied our health system,” O said in an interview with Bloomberg. Ministers have discussed their concerns with Apple, but aren’t making progress, he said.

An Apple spokesman referred to the company’s previous joint statement about its partnership with Google, which said the technology would enable Bluetooth-based contact-tracing apps and declined to comment further…

The Google-Apple system relies on smartphones’ Bluetooth connections and will allow users to keep their data on their handsets. However, France and the European Union want to feed the data to a central server, managed by state health services, which would alert users if they come into contact with a person infected by Covid-19.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple limits Bluetooth in this way in order to protect users’ privacy. We expect the company to continue handling Bluetooth this way in the face of overreaching governments, including France’s proposed contact-tracing scheme.

Regardless, no matter how well-designed the Apple-Google system is on paper, in practice too few people will install and use it, while reliance on Bluetooth connectivity (range, materials penetrance, public transport, etc.) will result in myriad false positive issues. This seems like something designed to provide a digital security blanket to help increase confidence for going back to work more than anything else. More about the myriad issues of Bluetooth COVID-19 contact tracing apps can be found in our Takes here and here.

10 Comments

  1. This is another front in the same war over whether Apple should provide a backdoor for its on-device encryption. The company cannot create a privileged means of access to Bluetooth data that cannot be hacked, either. This isn’t an “Apple won’t.” Apple can’t. It is like demanding the development of a vaccine in less time than is technically possible, or demanding that the tide stop rising.

    1. The French have been mean and nasty to Apple, too, so they can go shove themselves up the Champs-Elysees with an Eiffel Tower – the pointy end.

          1. I agree. But, you can hold that statement as true and a sort of warning, while thinking Bernie Sanders was the best choice? Under him, the people would be “owned” by the grabs that were never returned.

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