What a Child Spy App and a “Social Monitor” Have in Common

What a child spy app and a “Social Monitor” have in common

Errors in geo-positioning, registration delays, high power consumption and occasional “freezes”. The BBC compared user complaints about the Social Monitoring app and Wokka Lokka by Gaskar, which was used by Moscow City Hall for its Covid-19 patient tracking program.

Since the beginning of April citizens diagnosed with Covid-19 or ARVI and undergoing treatment at home should install the “Social Monitoring” spy application on their smartphones. According to the idea of the mayor’s office, it is designed to monitor compliance with the quarantine and fine in case of violation.

Control is carried out in two ways: the application identifies a person’s location and periodically asks people to take selfies.

In total, the system “Social Monitoring” registered 60 thousand people, of whom 30% were fined, told us the head of the Department of Information Technology (DIT) Eduard Lysenko. We are talking about more than 50 thousand fines totaling 216 million rubles, he added.

However, the fined are not satisfied with the work of the application and say that they really did not violate anything. In May, Moscow courts registered more than 1,000 complaints from citizens who contested the fine for violating the self-isolation regime, according to the City Court files. On some days, several hundred new applications are registered.

In an interview with RIA Novosti, the head of DIT said that no fines were issued due to an error in the application, but in an interview with us acknowledged that “the service was developed in a very short time,” and therefore “deficiencies are possible.

Who Developed Social Monitor

The first version of Social Monitoring appeared in the Google Play store on March 31.

As the vendor (section offered by the application card), it was named “Information City”, a subordinate institution of the Department of Information Technology. But in the developer section, the email address [email protected] was listed, the BBC pointed out.

Wokka Lokka is an application from Moscow-based Gaskar Group to track the location of children. The Privacy Policy section of the first version of Social Monitoring even posted the privacy policy of Wokka Lokka, not the coronavirus tracking app.

Gaskar Integration, a member of the Gaskar Group, had several contracts with Moscow City Hall structures in recent years worth a total of 400 million rubles, all of them related to IT development in the field of state order and construction. The last contract for the modernization of the system “Mosgorzakaz” was signed with “Information City” in January.

The Daily Shtorm pointed out that one of the developments of Gaskar Group in this area – “Smart Helmet” – is similar in spirit to the “Social Monitoring”: it is a helmet with location sensors, the data from which, according to the presentation of the company, should go to “Mosgorzakaz”.

The first version of Social Monitoring was subsequently removed from Google Play, but the application card with the name Wokka Lokka has survived in the Internet archive thanks to the Wayback Machine service.

In the version posted on April 3, Wokka Lokka is no longer mentioned, and in order to read the privacy policy, you must go to the City Hall website. However, the head of DIT, Eduard Lysenko, in a conversation with TASS, confirmed that “Information City” used “software solutions from Gaskar.

The BBC analyzed user feedback about Wokka Lokka and “Social Monitoring” and found that the key reasons were identical.

All reviews were edited in terms of spelling and punctuation, the place of publication (Google Play or App Store) is not specified separately.

Problems with registration

Wokka Lokka works in two ways: you can buy your child a smartwatch and track his location through a mobile app, or you can give him a smartphone with the same app.

On the App Store, Google Play and online shopping sites, you can find a significant number of positive reviews of the program, such as:

“Good app. Necessary and necessary. Knowing where your child is,” wrote user Agata Forest in December 2019.

One complaint is problems with registration

“None of the suggested ways to register worked. Tried to register on the site, so the password in the sms came after 5 hours and, of course, the code from the sms is not accepted,” wrote in February 2020 Artem Sukharev.

“Used last year, everything was fine, this year everything is terrible, the code with registration does not come for a long time,” wrote Saniya Atantayeva in January 2020.

Users of “Social Monitoring” complain of similar problems.

“First day of use. Registration went through 7-8 times (but still it went through),” feedback from Ryslanus on May 4.

“The third day I can’t register in the application, writes to me to wait for confirmation of registration data within 24 hours and so for three days”, – feedback from Alexander Muravyov, May 18.

“For two days I installed and reinstalled the app, it goes no further than “you have successfully registered”. I can’t wait to update”, – a message from E.K. Kuzmin, dated May 12.

The app freezes intermittently

Another common problem that both apps have in common is intermittent hangs.

This is how, for example, user Yana Golovina described Wokka Lokka in early April:

  • “Downloaded the app for myself, my son, and my husband. I liked it all. But for some reason it stopped working for me the next day. Maybe you can tell me what to do? In general, this app does not work at all. It hangs all the time. I have to uninstall it and reinstall it again.
  • “It just doesn’t work, even though it was working before. And it hasn’t been working for a long time, it just hangs and that’s it. Clearing the cache did not help,” Maxim Egorov wrote in February.

In mid-May, a Muscovite with Social Monitoring indignantly wrote:

  • “The app is horrible. It hangs, or sends a notification every hour. After the update recommended on 15.05, it doesn’t work at all.”
  • “After the first run, the program worked for a while, then froze. When I tried to reinstall it – it’s impossible to enter the application, try again later,” complained another resident of the capital at the end of April.

Errors in geo-positioning

Some users who bought a subscription to Wokka Lokka pointed out in feedback to the developers that the system does not correctly show the location of their child.

  • “The app is quite satisfying, the only thing that sometimes pisses me off is that sometimes it gets the location with a spread of several kilometers,” one of them said in March.
  • “It’s not always accurate, my child is at school, but it shows that he is at home, even though the house is far away from the school,” Oksana Trishechkina said in January.
  • “Geolocation is no … The child is in kindergarten, and according to the map he has already gone to the store twice [for] about a kilometer and came back,” – complained another user at the same time.

The developers partially acknowledge the problem in responses to complaints:

“Location is determined based on GPS, Wi-Fi, mobile networks (LBS). If the device could not use GPS and Wi-Fi (for example, indoors), LBS is used to determine the location. The accuracy of the location obtained from LBS is low. When the device is able to catch GPS, the location will be much more accurate.

Muscovites who put “Social Monitoring” also complain about possible errors in determining their location.

“Now I have 12 fines of 4 thousand each in the state services. Although I never left my apartment during the quarantine,” said Yuri Karpinsky on May 15.

“I received a text message that I had violated the regime of self-isolation, although I am a bed-ridden patient. I wonder how they want to track my location if the GPS at home barely picks up and shows me anywhere but at my home,” Dmitry Zhilnikov wrote in early May.

The developers of Social Monitoring also respond to complaints about possible geo-positioning errors, but not in as much detail as their Wokka Lokka counterparts.

“Penalties are assessed based on many factors, including geo-positioning. If a user leaves geolocation or fails to respond to notifications, the system warns the city of a possible isolation violation,” is the standard response.

High power consumption

Both apps, constantly requesting location data, inevitably strain the battery.

  • “The app is not bad, accurately determines the location of the child. Dear developers, expand the range of geolocation updates, as [a range of] 5 minutes drains the watch’s battery very quickly,” a Wokka Lokka customer wrote in early May.
  • “The child spends most of the time indoors (home, school, gym), the GPS does not pick up there, but mercilessly eats the battery,” – this review was left back in September 2019.
  • And here are the complaints about “Social Monitoring”.
  • “The app drains the battery like crazy because it monitors your geometry” (mid-May).
  • “It eats the battery like hell. But if your phone goes dead and you don’t notice? Penalty.”
  • “Okay, they ask for a bunch of permits, but it also eats up the battery. The phone is all hot.”

Problems with zooming

Wokka Lokka and Social Monitor users had the same scaling issues on some phone models.

“Everything would be fine, but the app does not scale to the phone screen (Samsung galaxy s10e), as a result, part of the app screen is cropped at the bottom and, for example, there is no way to add a sos number, because the add button is behind the edges of the screen. And you want money for that?”

  • (review on Wokka Lokka in January, in March support replied to the user that the problem was solved in an update).
  • “Your app doesn’t even fit in my phone. You’re having a problem with the 4k resolution (a modern resolution accommodating 38402160 pixels vs. 19201080 in FullHD. – BBC)? How can you put any button outside the screen?”

  • wrote Muscovite Alexei Vasilchuk on May 18 to the developers of Social Monitoring.
    • A few days later, the developers suggested that he ask the mayor’s office for a smartphone with the app pre-installed.

    What the mayor’s office and Gaskar say

    “The version of the Social Monitoring app posted on Google Play in mid-April (and then on the App Store) is brand new. In its creation, all comments from the professional community on the test version of the app were taken into account,” is how the Department of Information Technology responded to a BBC query about the similarities between the problems of Wokka Lokka and “Social Monitoring.”

    The department also says that they are constantly fine-tuning the app in response to complaints from users. “Some of the flaws were fixed already in the first updates – in particular, this concerned battery consumption,” the mayor’s office claims.

    Delays with registration are inevitable, the DIT noted: it is completed only after the user’s phone number is checked in the registry of patients with Covid-19 or symptoms of acute respiratory infections.

    As for complaints about errors in geo-positioning and incorrect display on the screens of certain models, such complaints were not received by the technical support service “Social Monitoring”, says the response DIT. Reviews on Google Play and App Store, apparently, this is not the case: under many of the complaints authors of the application advise to write a complaint to the service of technical support by e-mail.

    But the DIT stressed that the app only notes “a significant deviation of geolocation from the address” specified by the user.

    One of the owners of Gaskar Integration, Yuri Afanasyev, in response to questions from the BBC responded briefly in one of the messengers:

    “Wokka Lokka and Gaskar were not involved in the development of the Social Monitoring app.

    He read the remark that the first version of the app even posted Wokka Lokka’s privacy policy, but did not answer any more.