The City-State launched an application called Trace Together, which allows to reconstruct the virus transmission chain thanks to Bluetooth technology, considered less intrusive than geolocation, and which could inspire the French government.
Are we going towards a digital tracing to enforce the containment? Cédric O, the Secretary of State responsible for digital, is heard on Thursday before the Law Commission in the National Assembly on the possibility of setting up digital tracing via a mobile application. “You’ll know who you’ve encountered in the past few days and who has since tested positive for coronavirus ”, explained on France Inter the secretary ofÉtat Thursday morning. This data will be “anonymized“And inaccessible to anyone,”including for the government “. The technology used is that of Bluetooth, “which does not allow to geolocate people“, adds the Secretary of State.
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So those are the arguments developed by the government which says it is inspired by the example of Singapore: on March 20, the City-État has indeed launched an application called Trace Together, which allows to reconstruct the virus transmission chain thanks to a technology that we are very numerous to use on a daily basis: Bluetooth, this short distance connection system, which allows for example connect your phone to a headset, speaker, or printer. Bluetooth also makes it possible to connect phones to each other and this is what the Singapore authorities based on.
Imagine that in the street, transport or at work, your mobile phone's Bluetooth automatically locates phones that use the same application within two meters of you, and for half an hour straight, and keeps it in remember all these meetings for 21 days. If you are found positive for coronavirus, an SMS is sent to all these contacts, without your identity being revealed and these people you have come across are invited to quarantine and perform a test. Singapore launched the app three weeks ago: as of April 1, there were already a million downloads, with a total population of 5.7 million. This way of reconstructing the chain of transmission of the virus proves to be much more effective than the means used in France, where everything is based on the patient's memory: who did he come across, when, for how long, over a period two to three weeks.
According to its French supporters, the Bluetooth system offers the advantage of being less intrusive than geolocation because Bluetooth traces the history of social relations, but without possible external consultation or data transmission. It will be impossible to know who has contaminated whom, it is said, and the system is compatible with European law on personal data. Please note, however, warns the National Data Protection Commission (Cnil): this system must be implemented for a limited period and on a voluntary basis. Thus, the fact of refusing must have no consequences.
This is one of the limitations of this application: if few people install it, it does not work. Indeed, the system assumes that the population downloads the application en masse: a study by the British University of Oxford estimates the efficiency threshold at 60% of the population. However, according to the government, one in five French people does not have a smartphone equipped with a Bluetooth sensor and, above all, there is a “digital divide” in the country, especially among the elderly, who are precisely the most vulnerable to the virus.
Among the other pitfalls, it should be noted that everything is conditioned on our testing capacities, because the people contacted by SMS must be able to be tested immediately, even if they are asymptomatic or slightly affected. In the absence of tests, France can only consider adopting such a system in several weeks. Finally, even in Singapore, there is no miracle recipe: the city-État was considered a model in the management of the epidemic, in particular thanks to this famous app but in recent weeks, the number of cases has increased sharply and shops, restaurants, schools are now closed. This second wave of contamination is due to the numerous returns from Europe and Éthe United States and threatens all of Southeast Asia.