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StopCovid : Desperately Seeking System of Reference!

The deconfinement date of May 11th in France should make it possible to get children back to school, boost the economy and put an end to this period of confinement that is so difficult for many French people. The government’s main objective is to get the economy moving again and to limit new contaminations as much as possible. This is the main objective given to the StopCovid application developed by Inria for the government and on which parliament is due to vote this week.
The concept is clear: everything starts with the infected person who transmits the information that he or she has tested positive to the application via a server. The server sets up the chain of past encounters to warn people who are now at risk. Alerted persons are immediately invited either to carry out a medical test or to quarantine themselves.
We see four factors that we believe will determine the success or failure of this contact tracing system:
  • The utilization rate
  • Test availability
  • Non disclosure of commercially sensitive information
  • The role of the European Union

Review of details.

The utilization rate

To be effective, StopCovid must be used by 60% of the population, according to an Oxford University study. It will depend on the rate of smartphone equipment in France, the rate of downloading and the rate of capture of contamination information when it applies.

The rate of equipment in France does not pose a major problem, it is on average 77%, it depends on the age group and drops from 70 years and over, where it falls to 45%. This is also one of the reasons why older people will have to stop their confinement much later. On the other hand, downloading and the capture rate could be a problem.
Downloading would not be mandatory. And the government is announcing a tracing without impact on the privacy of the French. However, the French need to be well informed about the processing of their data related to downloading. It is certainly said that nothing will be requested at the time of downloading (no identity, no mail, no phone number, etc.) because the link will be made by Bluetooth, from machine to machine, between the terminal having a contaminated carrier and terminals having been in prolonged contact with this same terminal (for 5 minutes and within 2 meters). However, it will necessarily be necessary to provide for the case where the user is informed of his HIV status and his obligation to inform the system. The handling of this data in particular depends not only on whether or not the citizen wants to download, but also on his or her consent to enter the information that he or she is contaminated.

It is on this last point that we will have to be precise without jamming communication. Today, only a health professional, a biology laboratory or a nurse would give a QR code to the individuals concerned for them to enter into the application. Two solutions exist: either the information does not carry the identity of the contaminated person and links the “contaminated carrier” information to the terminal, or it does but the processing itself guarantees protection of personal data within the meaning of the GDPR. In the latter case, it will be necessary to ask for consent to the processing of personal data, “without pre-ticked boxes” specifies the CNIL. Finally, the level of requirement linked to a functionality must be raised to the level of the rules governing the entire application, and this must be stated at the time of downloading.

State-guaranteed test availability

In his speech on April 13th, the French President of the Republic announced: “We are not going to test all French men and women, it would make no sense. But anyone with a symptom should be able to be tested”.

But then what to do with the StopCovid information received on his smartphone?

If testing is only available when there is a symptom, what will the smartphone user do if he finds himself without a symptom receiving the StopCovid alert? Will he come back to quarantine after two months of confinement and in the midst of an economic recovery? What will be the instructions and what will be the social organization around these situations? What will be the role of hotels to allow individual, punctual and localized confinement where the person at risk is?

If tests are accessible without necessarily showing symptoms, will they be able to do so? Will they be proportional to the slope of contamination by region already observed before March 17? And this, at least for the first few weeks, while the contaminations begin to appear?

Will the announcement of 50,000 tests per day in May and 100,000 tests in June be compatible with an immediate link between the seizure of contamination, contact alerts and accessible screening tests in the most affected regions?

The continued empowerment of the French people and compliance with these new constraints will depend heavily on these typically regalian capacities.

Non disclosure of commercially sensitive information

A third lock has to be lifted, and not the least of them. Current negotiations with Apple and Google for the referencing of the StopCovid application are encountering technical and personal freedom problems. The question is whether the confidentiality of personal data related to the StopCovid operation will be preserved in the operating system of these digital giants. For putting in their operating systems information on who is with whom, when and where, offers additional data to Apple and Google and confiscates a new panoply of individual liberties of the French. The temptation is indeed very great for these two players to enrich virtual data with social data in real life, allowing them to refine commercially very sensitive information in return for a free listing of StopCovid in their respective stores.

The role of the European Union

In Europe, many countries are also racing for tracking applications, with different operating modes, partners and protocols. Out of 28 countries (member countries + UK), 14 countries are developing a tracking application but with profound differences, either in terms of location technology, Bluetooth or geolocation, sovereignty in development (national or international), or incentives for downloading (travel restrictions).

What is the EU doing in this context? To help governments, the pan-European consortium PEPP-PT (Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing) has been established to search for privacy-friendly, ready-to-use, well-tested and validated tracking and interoperability modules and tools.

Beyond these guidelines, the EU essentially plays the role of referee and ensures compliance with privacy rules through the GDPR, considered as a European flagship in the quest for digital sovereignty. In other words, it does not help much.

The odds are that with such a posture of the EU, the countries will arrive in a scattered order when the time comes for the recovery in an autarkic phase. In a second phase, when the opening of borders is possible or tested, not only technical but also operational interoperability will call for harmonisation of European rules. The likelihood is high that, in the long term, the strict regulations on privacy protection as they are conceived today will be shattered in favour of a more pragmatic reference system.


Beyond the analysis one by one of these difficulties, there is a greater one that explains them, which is that everyone is currently fighting over a reference system for the protection of individual freedoms that is no longer the right one. It is by reaffirming, at this time, our overriding objective of preserving the health of the inhabitants of this planet that we will probably be able to speed up our collective decisions.

All decision-makers (business, political, social, etc.) are faced with a new decision-making framework in an uncertain environment. The triptych economy, health and safety, individual freedom redefines in a sustainable way the balance of power, the vocation and the place of the Company, Public Actors, Non-Market Organizations in the governance of the City and the meaning of life in the Community. The impact of this new decision-making framework will be the subject of a Bengs Webinar led by Sébastien Durand, CEO of Bengs, on 5 May 2020 at 10am. COVID 19 will have had the beneficial effect of imposing on the whole of humanity the awareness that existing models will not be able to support the growth of the world population (10 billion in 25 years), nor the unregulated consumption of natural resources. Optimists see this as a unique opportunity to redefine the world. Pessimists see it as the premise of a black future. It is up to everyone to be an actor in the construction of this future.