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The application, launched by the French Government to help follow up contact cases in the fight against coronavirus, retains more information about people near the user than previously thought, the Mediapart information site has reported. StopCovid “collects and transfers to the central server the identifiers of all the people who have crossed paths with the app”. During an interview with French newspaper Le Monde in April, Secretary of State for digital matters Cédric O explained: “When two people meet for a certain period of time, and at close range, the mobile phone of the app user records the references of the other user in its history.”
The app was supposed to be designed in a way where information is limited to these contacts, and not all the people who cross paths with the user.
But Gaëtan Leurent, a French researcher in cryptography at the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation, claims to have discovered a major flaw in the application.
The researcher said he discovered that “all cross contacts in the past 14 days” are sent to the central server hosting data related to StopCovid.
In a blog post, Mr Leurent wrote: “StopCovid therefore sends a large amount of data to the server, which is not useful to track the spread of the virus, but which poses a real danger for privacy.”
He added: “I did a test by installing StopCovid on two phones, and activating it for ten seconds with the two phones in two different rooms (about 5 metres apart, plus a wall).
“When I then declare myself sick, my app sends this contact to the server, even though it has no epidemiological interest.
“I obviously declare myself sick with a false patient code, and the server refuses my data, but this allows us to see what is being sent).”
The researcher also wrote on Twitter: “I just realized that #StopCovid seems to send all contacts to the server, even passing on the other side of the street.
“This would contradict the official decree (contacts of 15min at 1m), and violate data minimization principle required by @CNIL and #GDPR.”
The State Secretariat for Digital Affairs did not question these revelations, but attempted to justify them.
He explained: “Every 15 minutes, a new identifier is assigned to each device, thus, a contact that would only last five minutes could be the result of a contact of twelve minutes: two contacts that only the server is able to link to understand that it is, in reality, only one, 17 minutes, therefore at risk.”
But Mr Leurent remains unconvinced by this attempted explanation State Secretariat for Digital Affairs, and thinks “that there would be fairly simple ways to limit the problem”.
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The researcher added: “The phone could filter data to keep contacts short only when they are just before or just after a change of ID.”
The National Data Protection Commission (CNIL) has confirmed that checks are “in progress” in regards to the functionality of the StopCovid application.
The State Secretariat for Digital Affairs claims the CNIL has been fully informed of the real functioning of StopCovid.
But the latest figures suggest the take up of the crucial track and trace application has been incredibly slow in France.
StopCovid has only been activated by 1.4 million times, or by around two percent of the French population, and comes at a time when the daily death rate from coronavirus began to rise.
On Tuesday, France announced a further 138 people had died from coronavirus in the most recent 24 hour period, increasing the death toll from the killer disease to 29,547. The health ministry included weekly data for the death toll in nursing homes.
The number of people dying in hospitals increased by 38 to reach a total of 19,000 people, compared to 29 on Monday and an average of 25 over the past seven days.
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.
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