New York City, Norway and Germany have each struggled to get their contact tracing programs off the ground. In NYC, an army of 3,000 contact tracers has struggled to glean information from a reluctant patient population. In Norway, objections from a data privacy watchdog compounded with low usage levels led the project to be mostly abandoned.
In the US and Europe, contact tracing apps have been controversial as many have alleged these government-sponsored tracking apps infringe on people’s rights by collecting location data, while doing little to uncover early infections, since infections involving random passing encounters with asymptomatic patients are relatively rare.
Now, French public health officials are running into a similar problem as the much-heralded new phone app for tracking coronavirus cases has only alerted 14 people that they were at risk of infection since its launch three weeks ago, according to France’s digital affairs minister, while almost half a million users have chosen to uninstall the app.
Here’s how it works: The StopCovid app keeps track of users who have been in close proximity of one another over a two-week period. If any become infected, they inform the platform, which alerts the others.
French officials defended the app as a vital tool for slowing the spread of COVID-19, although critics expressed data privacy concerns.
Since its launch, 68 people informed the platform they had been infected and only 14 users were alerted that they were now at risk.
Still, government ministers defended the app, saying its lack of usefulness is due to the fact that the outbreak in France had mostly died down. Already, 460,000 users have uninstalled the app, leaving only 1.5 million users across the whole country, which has a population of roughly 67 million.
The government will pay roughly $91,000 to $136,000 a month for app-related expenses like hosting and development work, though these costs could rise with another spike.
Britain abandoned its own contact tracing app plan a few months ago when major flaws emerged in testing, prompting a public outcry.