April 30, 2020 / 10:32 AM / a month ago

CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-Orange in talks with Apple on French contact-tracing app

(Corrects first name of Mari-Noelle Jego-Laveissiere in paragraph 7)

PARIS, April 30 (Reuters) - Orange is in intense discussions with Apple over developing France's smartphone app for tracing people who are at risk of coronavirus infection, the French company's CEO Stephane Richard said.

Countries are rushing to develop apps to assess the risk that one person can infect another with the coronavirus, helping to isolate those who could spread it.

"There are meetings almost every day. It's not a done deal yet (...) but we have a discussion dynamic with Apple that is not bad," Richard added on Thursday.

Apple and Google have so far resisted demands by France to back its approach to using smartphone technology, which involves holding personal data on a central server, whereas the technology firms support a decentralized approach in which Bluetooth logs are stored on individual smartphones.

Although Germany, which initially partnered with France on developing the app, flipped sides on Sunday, the Orange CEO said that Berlin had not entirely abandoned the centralised approach.

"Beware of the statements we've heard. The Germans are keeping a channel open. They didn't choose one side versus another," Richard said. "The Germans are working on the two options at the moment. I am still hopeful everything will manage to converge quickly."

Mari-Noelle Jego-Laveissiere, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer of France's biggest telecom operator, said that the French app, dubbed "StopCovid" for now although that name could change, should be ready by the end of May.

The issue has also caused political frictions, with many lawmakers raising privacy issues as reasons to be cautious of such apps. The French prime minister assured there would be a parliamentary debate on the issue once it is ready. (Reporting by Sarah White; Writing by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Michel Rose; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alexander Smith)

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