France Wants Apple to Lift iPhone Bluetooth Restrictions for Deployment of Virus Tracking App
France has asked Apple to remove a Bluetooth limitation that it claims is delaying the launch of a government-designed app for contact tracing to fight the coronavirus, reports Bloomberg.
iOS has a restriction that prevents apps like the one France is working on from using Bluetooth in the background if the data collected is going to be moved off of the device, which is a rule designed to protect user privacy. With this limitation, a contact tracing app is only able to access Bluetooth when an iPhone is unlocked and the app is open.
France's Digital Minister Cedric O told Bloomberg that that France is aiming to launch a contact tracing app by May 11 and that Apple's restriction is standing in the way.
"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 spokesperson contacted by Bloomberg declined to comment, but pointed toward Apple's previous statement on its partnership with Google for a multi-platform contract tracing feature.
Apple and Google on April 10 announced a partnership that will see the two companies developing a Bluetooth-based smartphone tracking solution to allow governments and health agencies to reduce the spread of the coronavirus while also protecting user privacy.
The solution will take advantage of a decentralized API that will keep users' data on their smartphones rather than allowing governments to build a centralized contact database. France and the European Union are pushing for data to be sent to a central server that's managed by state health services.
The UK government has run into a similar problem with Apple in the development of its own app for contact tracing as it too wanted to use Bluetooth in the background for tracking purposes.
Apple and Google in May will release APIs that will allow for interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities, while later in the year, a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform will be made available at the OS level.
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