Why is the french COVID tracing app a failure ?

Just under 10 million downloads at the time of writing. A figure that for the French market alone would be a success for many applications but when we talk about “TousAntiCovid” (the french COVID tracing app wich name can be translated into “Everyone against COVID”) it is necessarily disappointing when we see what is at stake.

There are two ways of looking at the subject. The first is to point out the irresponsibility or lack of solidarity of the population that does not play the game. The second is to tell oneself that there are deeper reasons behind it that are not specifically related to the application itself and from which one may have lessons to learn.

No! TousAntiCovid is not “just an app”.

The thing I hear most often is “but it’s just an app to install”. Well, no. TousAntiCovid is not “just an app”, just like any other application by the way. But its nature highlights things that go unnoticed when talking about less sensitive topics.

An application is not just a bunch of compiled lines of code that you install on your phone. It is the adherence to a device, to values, to individual or even collective behaviors and the search for a benefit.

When you install Facebook you adhere to a certain way of sharing your life with others. LinkedIn is another way. WhatApp is a way to communicate by phone and email. Amazon is a vision of commerce and shopping. No need to go through everything, you get it.

Of course, the less effort it takes to join, or the greater the social pressure, the more successful the application is.

Is the value proposition of TousAntiCovid insufficient?

Then comes the search for a benefit. What is the value proposition of TousAntiCovid? Protecting ourselves and others. Maybe that should be enough to get 30 or 40M downloads at the very least no? Obviously it is not understood or not valued or not enough.

If I wanted to be cynical, I would say that we overestimate the civic-mindedness of the users. I am convinced that given the extent to which the “save your skin” fear card was played, it would have been enough. Maybe the “All” is too much: maybe many more people than we think are concerned only with themselves and that going from “I” to “we” is not enough to pay the price needed to use the application. A price that we will talk about a bit lower.

Moreover, this subject has been understood by the government, which has enriched the application with, for example, the possibility of generating discharge certificates in the application. More value, but since in the meantime some clever people had found a way to do otherwise, the idea was less popular. I think they would have added a dating feature like Happn but for free it might have worked.

So there is also the adherence to a mechanism that is the governmental plan to combat COVID. Criticized in the spring, ridiculed in the fall (for good and bad reasons) it does not inspire confidence. To protect oneself, one agrees, as for the way one will speak about it again maybe one day but in any case one is not asked for his opinion. Unless the refusal of the application is a way to express one’ s opinion?

In short, the system is criticized and confidence in the government’s ability to deal with the crisis is low compared to many countries. Who is going to download an application to play a game whose rules you don’t approve of or don’t want to play?

And then the launch of the application was not without its bugs. Pushed back because of bugs, questioned about the use of personal data, nothing better to fail the launch of an app.

Let’s add the criticisms about its real or estimated price for the State’s finances, the choice of providers, the non-interoperability with other countries’ systems, the fact that for some, we would have done better, faster or cheaper with Google or Apple… in short, everything but a serene context to launch a product!

TousAntiCovid: the price to pay for the user

Defiance of the government apparatus, criticism and shadowy areas…not everything was in place for a successful launch. Replace TousAntiCovid with any application and you’ll see that the same context produces the same effects for everyone. You’ll see that one day maybe we’ll massively uninstall Facebook or whatever and make the parallel.

But all this can only be appreciated in terms of the price to be paid. But TousAntiCovid is free, right? Well as everyone knows, when it’s free, you are the product!

The price to pay is the sharing of localization data. No matter how noble the cause, it doesn’t work.

Because by dint of raising awareness of the GDPR and talking about the bad players that are the big platforms, the message has been understood. Or rather diverted to convey another message to the instigators of the application. Moreover, the CNIL (Digital and liberty commission) had expressed reservations that did not help.

But it’s still hard to believe that we give so much data to foreign private companies and that we refuse to do so for a governmental device whose goal is to save lives!

First of all, as I wrote a few lines earlier, for some people the issue of data is just a pretext to show their mistrust of a device and the institutions behind it.

For others it is a real and permanent concern.

For others, it is, in the case of TousAntiCovid, a very specific fear in relation to the fact that what is at stake is not the same from a very personal point of view. That Google knows where you are is one thing, that an alert forces you to explain, for example, to your wife or employer that you didn’t spend the afternoon where you said it or with whom you said it is anything but trivial.

Here again we talk about trust. The fact that we are less afraid to share our data with Google or Facebook than with the government says a lot. And there is no point in castigating the irrationalism of people who think that way. It exists, it’s a fact, it’s even a trend in France that is anything but new. Understanding why is quite simple, correcting the perception will take time.

TousAntiCovid: a message more than a rejection

If there is one word that comes up throughout this article it is trust. We are not talking about the application but about what is behind it. A State in general, a government in particular, a device in a very specific way.

From then on, we are dealing with a dialogue of the deaf. Where some see an act of civility, others see it as a way to send a message since they are not given the floor. When we don’t talk about the same thing, it is difficult to understand each other, but the facts are there: according to which side we place the application or rather the fact of installing it or not has not the same utility.

AllAntiCovid was designed to fail and it has failed. The day a brand with a low trust rating releases an application that poses a perceived risk to personal data, and for a low value proposition, exactly the same thing will happen.

The technology is neutral. Not its operators

The day may (or may not) come when some of today’s star applications will be massively uninstalled in the name of some kind of awareness and the mistrust it will provoke. After all, it took time for ecological awareness but it has finally arrived. Tomorrow the awareness of the use of data? Who knows.

As I often say, technology never does good or evil. It is never ethical or unethical. It is its ends that are ethical or not, and behind it, we talk about the trust we have in those who created it or in those who will exploit it.

TousAntiCovid failed because where some saw an app others saw a ballot to say “no”. The case has been heard and no miracles are to be expected in the future.

What we can still do is to ask ourselves the question of the causes of this lack of trust, which does not date from today, nor from this government, and which has been a characteristic French trait for ages, but which is only getting stronger and harder to express.

Then it will have to be restored and that’s a matter for society. One of my former mentors often told me that “trust is like toothpaste: once it comes out of the tube it is very complicated to put it back in“. Today, the lack of trust penalizes the fight against the virus, who knows what it will cost us tomorrow.

Photo : anti covid app by r.classen via Shutterstock

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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