Surrender everything Moscow officials are launching an app to monitor coronavirus patients’ compliance with home isolation. It requires access to geolocation, calls, and device settings.
On April 2, the Moscow Mayor’s Office will launch a mobile app called “Social Monitoring” designed for coronavirus patients with mild symptoms recovering at home. Eduard Lysenko, the head of the city’s Information Technology Department, confirmed this information in an appearance today on the radio station Ekho Moskvy. According to the city, there are currently about 550 confirmed COVID-19 patients who are recuperating at home, instead of in a hospital. “This [app] isn’t intended for everyone’s use. I repeat: this is for patients at home,” Lysenko explained. The app will be available on both iOS and Android, and the city is prepared to provide phones with the software preinstalled to patients who do not have mobile devices. (People will be required to return the hardware after their quarantine ends.) In another interview with the news agency TASS, Lysenko said patients will also be offered smartwatches loaded with the “Social Monitoring” app.
After installing the app, the police will start monitoring self-isolation compliance by people diagnosed with coronavirus, says Lysenko. Those who choose to recover from the disease at home will need to give their informed consent to installing and using the app. The agreement requires patients to install the app on a device with an active Internet and mobile communications connection. When registering, users must provide a photograph, passport information, and agree to transfer information to the city's Unified Data Storage and Processing Center. “This is necessary so law-enforcement agencies can monitor compliance with the self-isolation requirements,” says Lysenko.
The app will send push notifications to verify users’ locations. After each notification, users must access the app using facial recognition and then upload a live selfie. The “Social Monitoring” app will log users’ geolocations automatically. “This isn’t to track movements but to monitor when someone leaves their self-isolation address,” says Lysenko.
The app has come under fire for demanding broad access to device settings and transmitting personal data without encryption. The beta version of “Social Monitoring” appeared on Google Play on March 25 (it’s now been removed, but you can find an archived copy here). By March 31, it had been downloaded about 50 times. This version of the software had limited functionality, featuring only a button to place emergency calls and a “Latest News” section that connected to the city’s website with information about coronavirus. Bloggers at different Telegram channels studied the app and reported that it demanded access to geolocation, cameras, memory, call histories, wearable sensor data, and permission to view any data on the device. To make matters worse, the software transmitted all this collected data without encryption to the city’s data servers, according to Vladislav Zdolnikov, the author of the “IT and SORM” Telegram channel, who also discovered that the app used identix.one, a server based in Estonia, to perform facial recognition. According to Interfax, Anastasia Burakova, the head of the “Open Russia” opposition movement, subsequently filed a formal complaint with Roskomnadzor (Russia’s media regulator), asking the agency to ban “Social Monitoring” because it allegedly stores Russian users’ photographs on servers located abroad.
Moscow officials say the reports that their app sends data to Estonia are “fiction.” According to Eduard Lysenko, “Social Monitoring” uses identix.one’s algorithms but not its servers, and all information collected by the app is processed on the Information Technology Department’s own servers. Lysenko told TASS that the department’s server identified by Telegram bloggers is used only for testing the software and never to store Muscovites’ personal data. He also claimed that the app doesn’t get access to devices’ files.
The app’s development costs remain unclear. In January, one of its creators won a contractor from the Moscow Mayor’s Office worth 180 million rubles (now about $2.3 million). According to the BBC’s Russian-language service, the contract was awarded to a local company called “Gaskar Integration” to modernize the “Mosgorzakaz” (Moscow State Procurement) system. While Lysenko acknowledged that software solutions created by “Gaskar” were used to develop the “Social Monitoring” app, he told TASS that the software was designed by the “Information City” state public institution, a subsidiary of the city government. He insists that the Mosgorzakaz contract has nothing to do with the creation of “Social Monitoring.”
Eduard Lysenko also confirmed earlier reports by Meduza that Moscow officials plan to use QR-codes to permit local residents to leave their homes while the city is under self-isolation. The program is expected to launch as soon as the city government passes the necessary legislation, Lysenko told Ekho Moskvy (though he did not specify when this will happen). As expected, Muscovites will apparently receive QR-codes on their personal mobile devices after registering online at the official website of the Mayor’s Office. To accommodate people without smartphones or computers, city officials are also creating a call center where individuals’ codes will be read aloud over the phone. The newspaper Kommersant previously reported that Moscow residents will need a new unique code every time they leave their homes, including to walk their dogs or even take out the trash.