Ivanka Trump’s fashion-and-lifestyle website is promoting an app, developed by a Russian company, that can track people’s location even when it is not running. The app, called SkyGuru, was featured in the latest edition of “Weekly Clicks,” a roundup of recipes, fashion tips and fitness trends that “#TeamIvanka clicked, read and loved.”
SkyGuru says it can calm anxious flyers by alerting them to turbulence and tracking their flights through the air. But the small print on the app’s download page reveals another feature: it continues to monitor users’ whereabouts after their flights land, regardless of whether they close the app.
SkyGuru says this feature is no different than other GPS-related apps, like Google Maps or Uber, and that users can switch off the function.
SkyGuru was developed by Taktik Labs, a team of coders and marketers in Russia that includes a man with ties to a state-run investment firm. Amidst questions regarding President Donald Trump’s relationship with Moscow, the coincidence of electronic surveillance and the Russian government brought Trump and SkyGuru a sharp rebuke on social media.
A Russian developed realtime sky tracking & inflight data recording app hawked by Ivanka Trump. No. I’m not joking. Download at own peril. https://t.co/tRNi0VBZ04
— Malcolm Nance (@MalcolmNance) January 24, 2017
— Christo Grozev (@christogrozev) January 23, 2017
SkyGuru’s founder, Alex Gervash, says the app “does not contain any malicious code” and the company does not store the data it collects.
“It uses GPS data just like any other navigator,” Gervash said.
Taktik Labs has built a suite of apps, including KidRadar, which allows parents to monitor their children’s movements, and MoscowSecrets, which offers tips to travelers.
One member of the Taktik team is Andrey Lebedev, a consultant whose biography says he helped establish Rusnano Capital, a government-owned company that invests in things like energy projects and nanotechnology.
Lebedev reports on LinkedIn that he helped launch Rusnano in 2007 and was “awarded a thank you letter” from the deputy prime minister. Garvesh says Taktik has no connection to Rusnano and that Lebedev’s job is to find outside investors.
After Trump’s website promoted the app, Russia Today, the premiere outlet of Russian state media, proudly announced that SkyGuru’s downloads had tripled.
— RT (@RT_com) January 24, 2017
Gervash, a pilot with a degree in psychology, told BuzzFeed News in an email: “We are very happy that our app has created such a hype and so many discussions among our followers. Allow us to remind you that the main goal of SkyGuru is to explain to anxious passengers the ongoing processes during flight in order to help them cope with fear of flying.”
It was not clear who promoted SkyGuru from Trump’s website or Twitter account. Representatives of IvankaTrump.com did not return two messages seeking comment. SkyGuru said it has no ties to either Ivanka or President Donald Trump, but found a unique way to say thanks to both of them.
— SKYGURU (@skyguru_app) January 23, 2017