Like other countries, COVID-19 rocked both Russia and its neighbors, with recent numbers pointing to a collective 4,375 inhabitants left the post-Soviet states are infected with the virus. And although some of these areas are apparent less than concerned on the pandemic, Russia spent most of this week rolling out a series of initiatives to guard its citizens that put experts on edge.
Earlier today, the head of Moscow’s Information Technology Department, Eduard Lysenko, told the story Ekho Moskvy radio station that local authorities had developed a smartphone app intended for download by Moscow residents who had contracted the disease, allowing federal officials to monitor their movements. It is similar to what we have seen more than a dozen other countries, from Brazil to Israel to Pakistan, which are currently using the collective sites of citizens to monitor the infected and their environment to destroy the possibility of the infection spreading.
The app – which Lysenko says will be available to Moscow’s 12.5 million residents from Thursday – is the latest surveillance tool these citizens will be subject to as the Russian capital turns into what some critics call a “call”.digital concentration campMade in conjunction with the aggressive, city-wide lockdown adopted this week. Apart from the upcoming app, the Russian outlet Kommersant recently revealed a series of leaked plans for a QR code-based system that assigns each resident a unique QR-based identification for each trip to the pharmacy, grocery store or even just walking their dog. Without the QR code, according to the first documents, these citizens are not allowed to leave their home – and risk it high fines or imprisonment if they try to bend those rules. Aside from the police patrolling the capital, Moscow authorities have also made it clear that they will be using everything from street cameras to buying histories – and now geolocation data – to ensure residents comply with mandatory quarantine.
Although the planned location tracking app will not be ready for mass download on Thursday, the Moscow federal authorities have uploaded and quickly early version of the app from the Google Play Store yesterday, after being roasted by commentators who called the program “illegal,” “absolutely illegal,” saying the idea of mandatory, app-based surveillance “violates human rights even during an epidemic.”
While it’s not clear how “illegal” this app can be, a study of the originally uploaded app by an anonymous Moscow-based researcher found that it is by no means safe. When he broke for the more than 60,000 Russians in one long Telegram threadare some of the app’s biggest whoopsies:
- the ability of the app to access much more than a person’s geolocation, with the first version of the app asking permission to access a user’s camera, core settings, address book and more.
- sending the collected information to City Hall servers – and multiple foreign jurisdictions, including Estonia and Germany – without encryption.
- Costs Moscow a collective $ 180 million rubles to date, or about $ 228,000 US dollars.
- And much, much more!
In response to this criticism during his radio interview earlier today, Lysenko pointed out that this was a beta test of the app, which was only uploaded to the Play Store to “ gather feedback from the professional community. ” Optimists in the room may want to believe that these officials are telling the truth and that they can magically create a new version of the app for the next twenty-four hours. On the other hand, Russia’s illustrious history of less than secure apps sniffing at burgers might suggest otherwise.