These parents built a school app. Then the city called the cops

Enlarge / Öppna Skolplattformen hoped to succeed the place Skolplattform had failed.

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Christian Landgren’s persistence was operating out. Each day the separated father of three was squandering precious time attempting to get the Metropolis of Stockholm’s official college system, Skolplattform, to work correctly. Landgren would dig via countless convoluted menus to search out out what his kids had been doing at college. If figuring out what his kids wanted of their gymnasium package was a trouble, then figuring out report them as sick was a nightmare. Two years after its launch in August 2018, the Skolplattform had turn out to be a continuing thorn within the facet of hundreds of oldsters throughout Sweden’s capital metropolis. “All of the customers and the dad and mom had been indignant,” Landgren says.

The Skolplattform wasn’t meant to be this manner. Commissioned in 2013, the system was supposed to make the lives of as much as 500,000 kids, academics, and fogeys in Stockholm simpler—appearing because the technical spine for all issues training, from registering attendance to conserving a document of grades. The platform is a posh system that’s made up of three totally different components, containing 18 particular person modules which might be maintained by 5 exterior corporations. The sprawling system is utilized by 600 preschools and 177 faculties, with separate logins for each instructor, scholar, and guardian. The one downside? It doesn’t work.

The Skolplattform, which has value greater than 1 billion Swedish Krona, SEK, ($117 million), has didn’t match its preliminary ambition. Dad and mom and academics have complained concerning the complexity of the system—its launch was delayed, there have been reports of project mismanagement, and it has been labeled an IT disaster. The Android model of the app has an average 1.2 star rating.

On October 23, 2020, Landgren, a developer and the CEO of Swedish innovation consulting agency Iteam, tweeted a hat design emblazoned with the phrases “Skrota Skolplattformen”—loosely translated as “trash the college platform.” He joked he ought to put on the hat when he picks his kids up from college. Weeks later, sporting that very hat, he determined to take issues into his personal palms. “From my very own frustration, I simply began to create my very own app,” Landgren says.

He wrote to metropolis officers asking to see the Skolplattform’s API paperwork. Whereas ready for a response, he logged into his account and tried to work out whether or not the system might be reverse-engineered. In just some hours, he had created one thing that labored. “I had data on my display screen from the college platform,” he says. “After which I began constructing an API on high of their awful API.”

The work began on the finish of November 2020, simply days after Stockholm’s Board of Schooling was hit with a 4 million SEK GDPR fine for “critical shortcomings” within the Skolplattform. Integritetsskyddsmyndigheten, Sweden’s knowledge regulator, had discovered critical flaws within the platform that had uncovered the information of tons of of hundreds of oldsters, kids, and academics. In some circumstances, folks’s private data might be accessed from Google searches. (The issues have since been mounted and the tremendous lowered on attraction.)

Within the weeks that adopted, Landgren teamed up with fellow builders and fogeys Johan Öbrink and Erik Hellman, and the trio hatched a plan. They might create an open supply model of the Skolplattform and launch it as an app that might be utilized by pissed off dad and mom throughout Stockholm. Constructing on Landgren’s earlier work, the workforce opened Chrome’s developer instruments, logged into the Skolplattform, and wrote down all of the URLs and payloads. They took the code, which referred to as the platform’s non-public API and constructed packages so it may run on a telephone—primarily making a layer on high of the present, glitchy Skolplattform.

The outcome was the Öppna Skolplattformen, or Open College Platform. The app was launched on February 12, 2021, and all of its code is printed beneath an open source license on GitHub. Anybody can take or use the code, with only a few limitations on what they will do with it. If the town wished to make use of any of the code, it may. However moderately than welcome it with open arms, metropolis officers reacted with indignation. Even earlier than the app was launched, the Metropolis of Stockholm warned Landgren that it is likely to be unlawful.

Within the eight months that adopted, Stockholms Stad, or the Metropolis of Stockholm, tried to derail and shut down the open supply app. It warned dad and mom to cease utilizing the app and alleged that it is likely to be illegally accessing folks’s private data. Officers reported the app to knowledge safety authorities and, Landgren claims, tweaked the official system’s underlying code to cease the spin-off from working in any respect.

Then, in April, the town announced it was getting the police concerned. Officers claimed the app and its cofounders might have dedicated a legal knowledge breach and requested cybercrime investigators to look into how the app labored. The transfer took Landgren, who had been assembly with metropolis officers to deal with issues concerning the app, abruptly. “It was fairly scary,” he says of the police involvement.

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