Written by Romain Dillet

BlaBlaCar partners with scooter startup Voi to launch new BlaBla Ride app

Long-distance ride sharing startup BlaBlaCar announced that it is expanding to scooter sharing. But the company isn’t going to operate its own fleet of scooters. Instead, BlaBlaCar is partnering with Voi, a European e-scooter service that has raised $136 million over multiple rounds.

Voi operates in dozens of European cities including Paris, Marseille and Lyon. Over the next few weeks, Voi scooters will feature three different brands — Voi, BlaBlaCar and BlaBla Ride.

Existing Voi members will still be able to use the Voi app. But BlaBlaCar also plans to launch its own app, BlaBla Ride. Existing BlaBlaCar users will be able to log in with their BlaBlaCar accounts.

According to AFP, BlaBlaCar says it isn’t a financial transaction — it’s just a partnership that could benefit users of both platforms.

BlaBlaCar has launched several new services over the past couple of years. It has acquired Ouibus and rebranded it to BlaBlaBus. It operates a carpooling marketplace for daily commutes between your home and your workplace called BlaBlaLines.

Interestingly, unlike Grab, Gojek and Uber, BlaBlaCar isn’t building a super app to access several different services. BlaBlaLines is still a separate app for instance. It creates some friction for users that could be interested in multiple services.

The company thinks BlaBla Ride could be a great solution for the last mile of your ride. A bus or carpooling driver could drop you off in the city center and you could then unlock a scooter to reach your destination.

France’s data protection watchdog reviews contact-tracing app StopCovid

France's data protection watchdog CNIL has released its second review of StopCovid, the contact-tracing app backed by the French government. The CNIL says there’s no major issue with the technical implementation and legal framework around StopCovid, with some caveats.

France isn’t relying on Apple and Google’s contact-tracing API. Instead, a group of research institutes and private companies have worked on a separate solution.

At the heart of StopCovid, there’s a centralized contact-tracing protocol called ROBERT. It relies on a central server to assign a permanent ID and generate ephemeral IDs attached to this permanent ID. Your phone collects the ephemeral IDs of other app users around you. When somebody is diagnosed COVID-19-positive, the server receives all the ephemeral IDs associated with people with whom they’ve interacted. If one or several of your ephemeral IDs get flagged, you receive a notification.

ROBERT has been a controversial topic as it isn’t an anonymous system — it relies on pseydonymization. It means that you have to trust your government that it isn’t collecting too much information and it doesn’t plan to put names on permanent IDs.

But the CNIL says that ROBERT focuses on exposed users instead of users who are diagnosed COVID-19-positive — it is “a choice that protects the privacy of those persons,” the agency says. The CNIL also says that ROBERT tries to minimize data collection as much as possible.

Inria released a small portion of the source code that is going to power StopCovid a couple of weeks ago. The research institute originally said that some parts wouldn’t be open-sourced. The CNIL contested this decision and Inria has now reversed its stance and the government promises that everything will be released, eventually.

The StopCovid development team is also launching a bug bounty program in partnership with YesWeHack following recommendations from France’s national cybersecurity agency (ANSSI).

On the legal front, the draft decree excludes data aggregation in general. For instance, the government won’t be able to generate a heat map based on StopCovid data — StopCovid doesn’t collect your location anyway.

The CNIL says that the government promises that there won’t be any negative consequence if you’re not using StopCovid, nor any privilege if you’re using it. The government also promises that you’ll be able to delete pseudonymized data from the server. All of this is still ‘to be confirmed’ with the final decree.

Finally, the CNIL recommends some changes when it comes to informing users about data collection and data retention — it’s hard to understand what happens with your data right now. There should be some specific wording for underage people and their parents as well.

In other news, the government has sent me some screenshots of the app. Here’s what it looks like on iOS:

France’s digital minister, Cédric O, will be in front of parliament members tomorrow to debate the pros and cons of StopCovid. It’s going to be interesting to see whether the French government has managed to convince parliament members that a contact-tracing app is useful to fight the spread of COVID-19.

Facebook rebrands Libra wallet Calibra to Novi

When Facebook unveiled Libra, its cryptocurrency project, there were two distinct entities — the Libra Association, a not-for-profit that oversees all things Libra, and Calibra, a Facebook subsidiary that is building a Libra-based wallet with integrations in WhatsApp and Messenger. Today, Facebook announced that Calibra has a new name, Novi.

By rebranding Calibra to Novi, Facebook is trying to make it super clear that the Libra project isn’t a Facebook project per se. Facebook is just a member of the Libra Association with dozens of other members, such as Andreessen Horowitz, Coinbase, Iliad, Lyft, Shopify, Spotify, Uber, etc.

The Libra blockchain is supposed to operate independently from Facebook, while Novi is a pure Facebook project headed by David Marcus. According to the company, Novi comes from the Latin words “novus” (new) and “via” (way).

Novi’s first product will be a cryptocurrency wallet. You’ll be able to download a standalone Novi app on your phone. While you don’t need a Facebook or WhatsApp account to create a Novi account, it will also be accessible directly in Messenger and WhatsApp — you’ll be able to tap on a button to launch a Novi menu to send and receive money through the Novi wallet.

The Facebook subsidiary wants to be reassuring when it comes to money laundering and know-your-customer regulation. When you sign up to Novi, you’ll have to take a photo of a government-issued ID. Novi isn’t a way to send money anonymously.

Instead, Novi promises instant transactions and “no hidden fees” for cross-border money transfers and local payments. It’s unclear whether Novi means there won’t be any fees or there will be fees but the company will be transparent about them.

The Libra Association recently updated its white paper to make important changes to the cryptocurrency protocol. The association is no longer building a global stablecoin tied to a basket of fiat currencies and securities.

When Libra launches, there will be several stablecoins — each of them will be backed by a single fiat currency, such as USD, EUR, GBP or SGD. Novi users as well as people using other Libra-enabled wallets will be able to send and receive LibraUSD, LibraEUR, LibraGBP or LibraSGD. Novi will also act as a ramp to convert fiat money to crypto assets and cash out your cryptocurrencies to traditional fiat currencies.

Novi plans to launch its wallet when the Libra network goes live. Only a limited set of countries will be able to access the service at first.