EU states 'being completely held hostage by Google and Apple' says official

Tim Cook
Tim Cook (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • An EU official has said that Apple and Google are holding EU states hostage.
  • That's after they rebuffed calls from France and Germany to back their contact tracing solutions.
  • Apple and Google will not accommodate solutions that involve holding personal data on a central server.

An EU official has said that Apple and Google are holding EU states hostage after they rebuffed further calls to support contact tracing solutions offered by France and Germany.

As Reuters reports:

A standoff between the two largest nations in the European Union and Silicon Valley escalated on Friday as Apple and Google rebuffed demands by France and Germany to back their approach to using smartphone technology to trace coronavirus infections.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 the COVID-19 disease.

The report notes that EU countries are behind a system based on Bluetooth being used to track smartphone interaction, rather than user location data. However, the EU is sharply divided over the use of a centralized or a decentralized system. France and Germany support the former, however, they have again been told that Apple and Google will not back such a system. Switzerland appears to a leading proponent of DP-3T, which stands for Decentralised Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, which Google's VP of engineering Dave Burke described as "the best privacy-preserving solution."

On Friday, a webinar was hosted by the liberal renew faction in the European Parliament. Apple's global director of privacy and law enforcement requests told members:

"Those privacy principles are not going to change... They are fundamental minimum privacy principles that are needed to make this work."

If Apple and Google do not support the apps offered by countries, they would still technically work but would need to be open on your screen all the time to be effective. One EU official "The European states are being completely held hostage by Google and Apple" and a Spokeswoman for the German government stated;

"The federal government has great trust in the system that is being tested by Fraunhofer... With a decentralized system, you have to trust Apple and Google."

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  • It feels really unnatural to side with American megacorps over the EU on a user privacy issue... But screw them, they've been given tools to help fight the spread of the C-virus, if those tools "aren't good enough" no one is forcing them to use them. Leave what Apple and Google have built for you on the table and start from scratch. We'll see how well you do.
  • I completely agree with you; it feels supremely strange to side with two ruthless near-monopolies, but the EU is seriously off-track here...!
  • However well-meaning, the whole tracking thing reeks of potential abuse, whether it be by government, or megacorporations. "The road to perdition is paved with good intentions."
  • So now not getting whatever I want equates with being held hostage? Hey, Mr. Gates. I’d like to have $1 billion please. No? You’re holding me hostage!
  • Yet again Europe shows the world why they are irrelevant.
  • Hardly, it's a minor disagreement at best but if I was Google and Apple, I would be worried because over the long run, this could turn out bad for them in some ways. As for trust, who do we trust, mega corps or governments? I'm more incline to trust governments and in the case of Europe, it does make more sense to do it at an EU level because of the freedom of movement of people and at some point as borders open up, that will likely have to happen because apps that members do wont be good enough when people can cross borders. It will be interesting to see how this pans out but I think big corps are in for some hard times over the next few years because there is only so much pain they can pass onto the public, a lot of it is likely going to go onto the rich elites and corporations.
  • Yes, it's a matter of trust. And when you are using a decentralized system, you don't have to have as much trust. It's interesting that the corps get all sorts of flack for invading privacy, but when they finally do get something right, they are being lambasted for that, too.
  • There’s no problem with android. You can have the app running Bluetooth in the background with android. It’s apple. If you don’t use the apple google api, in order for the app to be effective with iOS you have to have the device unlocked and running in the foreground. As much as we complain about the apple ecosystem and the walled garden, this is a situation where apple is essentially holding out and saying nope - privacy is paramount.
  • And this is why I'm returning to Apple, when it comes to privacy and security, Apple has your back, the EU is being unreasonable here with Android we are "the product".
  • Um, not so much. Apple doesn't have your back.
  • I dunno. I think apple is slightly better when it comes to privacy. But i agree none of them are perfect. In order for iMessages to be fully encrypted you have to make sure all recipients aren’t backing up their iMessages to iCloud. But neither does google.
  • There's a pretty obvious work around for dealing with this... You back up on your PC, encrypted, and you don't use Messages in iCloud. Problem solved. Apple, as a company, doesn't do ad targeting, has all data collection in thier software turned OFF-BY DEFAULT, and they have technologies build into their OS and software to prevent tracking (i.e. Tracking Prevention in Safari on iOS/macOS). Not to mention, they heavily monitor their App Store. In addition to that, there is a REAL problem that companies have to walk where they have to choose where the correct line between "protecting privacy" and "providing a shield for criminal behavior" actually is. If your daughter was chatting with a pedo and got kidnapped after he asked her to meet, you'd probably be for this rule, since you can probably have the police look at the backups and get information that could lead police to getting her back. There's always a "great scenario" where every situation makes sense. It's balancing the public good vs. the needs of law enforcement to do their jobs and solve crimes that is at issue. Until the FBI shows themselves to be abusive of this information, it's really hard to press against them, and courts are likely to vote in their favor as a result, anyways. Pressing against them only makes you look negligent, because there are always situations that could benefit from this, and you're going to be tired to any damage that is caused by your corporate policy.
  • That's funny coming from a multi-national conglomerate of unelected officials exerting force over most of a continent.
  • This. Lol. They have been gaslit so hard.
  • We can't trust Apple and Google. They are tracking us and sending data to their servers. I switched to /e/ from e foundation. It is private ungoogled android and lets you run android apps without sending data to Google. It is a must if you care about privacy.