A cyclist wearing an FFP2 mask on the Bir-Hakeim bridge, March 23, 2020 in Paris during the confinement period.
A cyclist wearing an FFP2 mask on the Bir-Hakeim bridge, March 23, 2020 in Paris during the confinement period. (NATHANAEL CHARBONNIER / ESP – REDA INTERNATIONALE)

Should we use geolocation applications against the coronavirus (a practice also called backtracking)? There are several, but these raise questions of privacy.

In China, Korea, Taiwan and even Israel, states or private companies have launched applications to geolocate carriers of the virus. This is also the case in France with the CoronApp application. Once you have downloaded this app on your smartphone, you are asked to declare whether you have tested positive for coronavirus. Then, the application tracks all your movements for fourteen days to indicate to other users if they have possibly encountered carriers of the virus. The goal is to encourage even more to stay confined at home.

This kind of application starts from a good intention but one can, however, question the effectiveness. Indeed, this app would only be used by a few hundred people, which seems very limited, and it only controls the position of people once per hour, which also seems very limited. Most importantly, it raises questions about privacy. Should we share his state of health and the history of his trips with this private company? Is the data sufficiently protected? Are we sure they will not be used for other purposes? CoronApp claims that the data is kept only for 14 days and that after it is deleted. In the United States, MIT has developed a somewhat similar application, Private Kit, which claims to fully respect privacy through data encryption.

Another form of geolocation, in Europe, the States will implement a less intrusive but nevertheless completely new solution. At the request of the European Commission, operators will follow the movements of smartphone users, not via an application but thanks to location via relay antennas (boundary markers). The objective is not to track down the virus but to detect possible gatherings in breach of containment.

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