These mother and father developed a faculty app. Then town referred to as the police

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Enlarge / Open Skol Platforms hoped to be successful where Skol Platform failed.

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Christian Landgren’s patience was running out. Every day, the separated father of three wasted valuable time getting the official school system of the city of Stockholm, the Skol platform, to work. Landgren rummaged through endless tangled menus to find out what his kids were doing at school. If figuring out what your kids needed in their sports equipment was a chore, reporting them sick was a nightmare. Two years after its launch in August 2018, the Skol platform was a constant thorn in the side of thousands of parents in the Swedish capital. “All users and parents were angry,” says Landgren.

The Skol platform shouldn’t be like that. The system, which went into operation in 2013, was intended to make life easier for up to 500,000 children, teachers and parents in Stockholm – as the technical backbone for all educational issues, from attendance registration to grade registration. The platform is a complex system that consists of three different parts and contains 18 individual modules that are maintained by five external companies. The extensive system is used by 600 preschools and 177 schools with separate logins for each teacher, student and parent. The only problem? It doesn’t work.

The Skol platform, which cost more than 1 billion Swedish kronor ($ 117 million), has failed to achieve its original ambitions. Parents and teachers have complained about the complexity of the system – its adoption has been delayed, there have been reports of project mismanagement and it has been labeled an IT disaster. The Android version of the app has an average rating of 1.2 stars.

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On October 23, 2020, Landgren, a developer and CEO of the Swedish innovation consultancy Iteam, tweeted a hat design with the words “Skrota Skol platforms” – loosely translated as “Trash the School Platform”. He joked that he should wear the hat when picking up his children from school. Weeks later he decided to take matters into his own hands with this very hat. “Out of my own frustration, I’ve just started developing my own app,” says Landgren.

He wrote to city officials asking for access to the Skol platform API documents. While waiting for an answer, he logged into his account and tried to see if the system could be recreated. In just a few hours he had created something that worked. “I had information from the school platform on my screen,” he says. “And then I started building an API on top of their lousy API.”

Work began in late November 2020, just a few days after the Stockholm Ministry of Education was fined SEK 4 million GDPR for “serious defects” in the Skol platform. Sweden’s data regulator, Integritetsskyddsmyndigheten, discovered serious flaws in the platform, which had disclosed the data of hundreds of thousands of parents, children and teachers. In some cases, people’s personal data can be accessed using Google search. (The shortcomings have since been corrected and the appeal fine has been reduced.)

In the weeks that followed, Landgren teamed up with fellow developers and parents Johan Öbrink and Erik Hellman and the trio forged a plan. They would create an open source version of the Skol platform and release it as an app that could be used by frustrated parents across Stockholm. Building on Landgren’s previous work, the team opened Chrome’s developer tools, logged into the Skol platform, and wrote down all of the URLs and payloads. They took the code that called the platform’s private API and built packages to run on a phone – essentially creating a layer on top of the existing, buggy Skol platform.

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The result was the Öppna Skol Platforms or Open School Platform. The app was released on February 12, 2021, and all of its code is published on GitHub under an open source license. Anyone can take or use the code with very few restrictions on what they can do with it. If the city wanted to use any of the codes, it could. But instead of welcoming it with open arms, city officials responded with outrage. Even before the app was released, the city of Stockholm warned Landgren that it could potentially be illegal.

Over the next eight months, Stockholms Stad or the City of Stockholm attempted to derail and shut down the open source app. It warned parents to stop using the app, claiming that it may illegally access people’s personal information. Officials reported the app to the data protection authorities and, according to Landgren, tweaked the underlying code of the official system to stop the spin-off from operating in the first place.

Then, in April, the city announced that it would call on the police. Officials alleged the app and its co-founders may have committed a criminal data breach and asked cybercrime investigators to investigate how the app was working. The move surprised Landgren, who had met with city officials to address concerns about the app. “It was pretty scary,” he says of the police involvement.

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