French virus tracing app goes live amid debate over privacy

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FILE - In this April 20, 2020 file photo, a delivery man, who want to name Moise, wearing protective gear checks his phones during a nationwide confinement in Paris. France is rolling out its contact-tracing app aimed to help containing the spread of the virus as life slowly returns to normal while most of its neighbors, including the UK, Germany, Italy are also about to launch their own technology. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

PARIS – France is rolling out an official coronavirus contact-tracing app aimed at containing fresh outbreaks as lockdown restrictions gradually ease, becoming the first major European country to deploy the smartphone technology amid simmering debates over data privacy.

The StopCovid app launched Tuesday just as the French government started allowing people to once again go to restaurants and cafes, parks and beaches and museums and monuments. It was available on Apple's App store and the Google Play store.

Neighbors including the U.K., Germany, Italy, and Switzerland are developing their own apps, though they’re using different technical protocols, raising questions about compatibility across Europe’s borders.

Authorities hope the app can help manage virus flare-ups as they reopen the economy in France, which has been living under some of Europe's tightest restrictions since it became one of countries hardest hit by the pandemic, with nearly 29,000 deaths.

Some Parisians were keen to adopt the technology to help bring life back to normal.

Cafe waiter Paul Hubert said he was ready to download the app because he sees “more benefits than risks.”

“To me it sounds like wearing a mask in a shop,” said Hubert, 24. “It’s easy and it can help protecting others.”

The various European apps use low-energy Bluetooth signals to anonymously log the nearby presence of other users. Under the French system, data is uploaded to government-run centralized servers. Users who test positive will be able to notify others who have been in close contact for at least 15 minutes so they can self-isolate and seek treatment.