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It took nearly three hours for France's terror alert app to respond to Nice attack

Government faces criticism on social media after recently announced app falls silent

Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images

A terror alert app released by the French government last month has come under criticism after taking hours to notify users of Thursday night's attack in Nice.

The app, called SAIP (Système d’alerte et d’information des populations) was released by the French Interior Ministry on iOS and Android in June, ahead of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament. According to the ministry, the app would provide users with alerts and information within 15 minutes of a terrorist attack being confirmed. But it apparently took much longer to send out alerts following last night's attack in Nice, where a man drove a truck into a crowded seaside promenade during Bastille Day celebrations, killing at least 84 people and leaving 18 others in critical condition.

Users who had downloaded the app posted phone screenshots to Twitter last night showing that SAIP sent out its first alert just after 1:30AM local time — nearly three hours after the attack began. Facebook, by contrast, activated its Safety Check feature shortly after the attack was carried out, and French politicians urged those in the area to check in using that feature, as SAIP remained silent.

It is not yet clear what caused the delay, though experts had warned that the app may struggle if cellular networks are congested following an attack. In an interview with the newspaper Libération following the release of SAIP, Gaël Musquet, "hacker in residence" at the public digital agency La Fonderie, said that the app could face problems because it relies on "vulnerable" 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi networks. "When there are too many phones in a certain area and not enough channels available to route all calls, cell towers are saturated and they cannot respond," Musquet told the paper.

Anaêlle Grondin, a journalist for Les Echosreported on Twitter Friday that the app suffered a "technical problem" last night, citing a government source. The Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge.