European countries have been upset at Apple for making it harder for them to get their own contact tracing platforms up and running on the iPhone. These countries want to use Bluetooth to keep track of the phones that pass by the vicinity of other devices. This way, smartphone users will know if they have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
The problem with using Bluetooth is that it would require Apple to change the settings on the iPhone. Currently, Apple blocks apps from using Bluetooth if the latter is running in the background and data from that particular app is going to be removed from the device. Since the Europeans want the data collected by contact tracing through Bluetooth to be sent to a centralized server, that would violate Apple's rules. France, for example, wants Bluetooth to keep running in the background even though the data collected would be sent to a centralized server. For that to take place, Apple would have to change some iPhone settings which it is loathe to do. Allowing Bluetooth to run in the background for contact tracing will drain the battery on a user's iPhone.
France’s minister for digital technology, Cedric O, said during a television appearance, "Apple could have helped us make the application work even better on the iPhone. They have not wished to do so. I regret this, given that we are in a period where everyone is mobilized to fight against the epidemic, and given that a large company that is doing so well economically is not helping out a government in this crisis. We will remember that when time comes." While O could not venture a guess about what could be behind Apple's decision not to make the necessary changes, the minister added, "We consider that oversight of the healthcare system, fighting the coronavirus, is a matter for governments and not necessarily for big American companies."
The minister also stated that France's "StopCovid" contact tracing app will be ready to go on June 2nd regardless of what Apple does. Testing will begin next Monday, May 11th. That happens to be the date when the country will officially start to reopen from its lockdown. In the country, Android is the leading mobile operating system with a 78.8% share. Apple's iOS is next with 21.1%. Since Android phones don't have the same restrictions, France feels confident to go ahead with its plans anyway.
Still, Germany gave in to Apple and decided not to use a method of centralized storage called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) for its COVID-19 contact tracing. Britain started testing its contact tracing app today and it has decided to go the centralized route like France is.
Last month more than 300 professors from around the world signed an open letter that said while Bluetooth based contact tracing is strongly preferred, the centralized approach could lead to unprecedented government surveillance. In the letter, the professors wrote, "Some of the Bluetooth-based proposals respect the individual's right to privacy, whilst others would enable (via mission creep) a form of government or private sector surveillance that would catastrophically hamper trust in and acceptance of such an application by society at large. It is crucial that citizens trust the applications in order to produce sufficient uptake to make a difference in tackling the crisis. It is vital that, in coming out of the current crisis, we do not create a tool that enables large scale data collection on the population, either now or at a later time. Thus, solutions which allow reconstructing invasive information about the population should be rejected without further discussion.Such information can include the "social graph" of who someone has physically met over a period of time."