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These Parents Built a School App. Then the City Called the Cops

November 4, 2021 - Posted in News Posted by:

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While the dispute was unfolding, Öppna Skolplattformen continued growing in popularity—including a swell in the number of people involved in its development. Cofounders Landgren and Öbrink say up to 40 people have worked on development of the app. This group of volunteers has found and squashed bugs, developed a search feature, and translated the app into different languages. They also raised potential security issues with the official app, even as the city worked against them. The team includes designers, lawyers, and developers. “As private citizens, we are highly digitalized,” Landgren says.

As Sweden’s startup scene has thrived—Spotify, Klarna, and King were all founded there—its public sector technology has struggled to keep up. The most recent OECD report into government digitization, from 2019, ranks Sweden at the bottom of the 33 countries reviewed. “When we use these official tools, they are stuck in the ’90s,” Landgren says. “To bridge that gap we, and a lot of other people that joined us, think that open source is probably the best way for us to start collaborating.” He argues that citizen development can be more effective than costly and often botched government IT projects that take years to complete and are out of date by the time they are completed.

“​​It shows very clearly some of the ways in which Sweden’s digitalization has gone wrong,” says Mattias Rubenson, the secretary of the Swedish branch of the Pirate Party, which has been chronicling the problems it has with the Skolplattform. “There is, in general, the possibility of a school platform being good. But you have to involve students, and especially teachers, in the development from the start. There has been none of that in the School Platform.”

Öppna Skolplattformen had to wait months to be cleared. “We do not believe that anything criminal has been committed,” Åsa Sköldberg, the leader of the police’s preliminary investigation, told Dagens Nyheter on August 16. Data regulator Integritetsskyddsmyndigheten did not open an investigation into the city’s complaint, a spokesperson says.

The police report, shared with WIRED by Landgren, references the Certezza security review, which was commissioned by the city and completed on February 17, 2021. The review concluded that the open source app wasn’t sending any sensitive information to third parties and didn’t pose a threat to users. The police report went further in clearing the Öppna Skolplattformen developers. “All information that Öppna Skolplattformen has used is public information that the City of Stockholm voluntarily distributed,” it said.

Landgren was traveling to his brother’s wedding in France at the start of September when he got the phone call. The city was changing its position on Öppna Skolplattformen—and any other apps seeking to do similar things—and decided to let others access the data within its systems. To do so, the city struck a deal with an external provider that will be able to set up licenses between Öppna Skolplattformen and the city.

“With this solution, the City of Stockholm can guarantee that personal data is handled in a correct and secure way, while parents can take part in the market’s digital tools in their everyday lives,” Isabel Smedberg-Palmqvist, a city councillor in Stockholm, said in a statement issued on September 9. The move was validation of Öppna Skolplattformen’s efforts—the team estimates that hundreds of hours of work have been put into the app. But the call also came as a shock to Landgren. Just days earlier, he claims, Öppna Skolplattformen was once again being buffeted by attempts to block its access to official APIs. After the announcement was made, the efforts stopped.