- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2017

A Russian-made smartphone app for the fearful of flying is soaring in popularity this week thanks to a bump from President Trump’s eldest daughter despite a little turbulence.

The founder of SkyGuru told Russian media this week that downloads of his paid aviation app have surged 220 percent since Ivanka Trump mentioned it on both her personal Twitter account and website Sunday, two days after her father’s inauguration.

“Overcome plane anxiety with the SkyGuru app, which explains noises and turbulence using professional aviation data,” Miss Trump, 35, wrote in a list of winter travel tips published on her website and shared on social media.

SkyGuru’s website witnessed 11,000 percent more traffic than usual in the aftermath of the first daughter’s endorsement in addition to the sudden spike in downloads, Israeli pilot and SkyGuru founder Alex Gervash reportedly told the Russian tabloid Life this week.

“We do not know whether Trump suffers from fear of flying. However, we definitely know that Ivanka would suggest he use SkyGuru on board Air Force One,” Mr. Gervash said Monday on Facebook. A tweet sent separately from the official SkyGuru account and directed to President Trump and his daughter thanked them both for her support and said: “Together we will make America Fly Again! God bless America!”

As the number of people downloading his app grew, however, so did concerns spurred by the company’s international ties, especially since the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia waged cyberattacks against American target in an effort to elect Mr. Trump president. Incidentally the app’s tangential ties to the Russian government — coupled with its ability to persistently log GPS data from its users without their knowledge — were both acknowledged in an article published Thursday by BuzzFeed as SkyGuru faces scrutiny as a result of Miss Trump’s recent endorsement.

While SkyGuru is indeed the brainchild of Mr. Gervash, a Jerusalem native who now resides in Moscow, BuzzFeed noted that SkyGuru was developed by Taktik Lab, a Russian-based team of developers that includes Andrey Lebedev, a consultant previously tied to the government-owned Rusnano Capital.

SkyGuru issued a statement Friday in the wake of BuzzFeed’s article dismissing concerns involving its foreign connections and denying the app serves any malicious purpose.

“We’ve never concealed the fact that SkyGuru uses location services — just as any other app. Each user is free to turn off location services in settings of their smartphone. Moreover, SkyGuru even recommends to turn them off if the speed and altitude of the airplane are not important for the user. The app does not contain any malicious code nor any other harmful instruments. It uses GPS data just like any other navigator,” Mr. Gervash said Friday.

“One should remember that many Russian and Israeli programmers, engineers, entrepreneurs and founders work in almost all world leading companies — Google, Facebook, Apple, Uber, and many others,” he said. “In Silicon Valley one can hear people speak any number of languages from around the world, including Russian and Hebrew. Humanity combines efforts and takes down barriers to create new technologies that improve lives.”

SkyGuru was initially released last year exclusively in Russian, and was touted at the time by Sputnik, the Kremlin-funded media website, in an article that proclaimed: “A ten-strong team of Russian developers have released a brand new app called SkyGuru, which does something that no other app currently does.”

The app was prominently highlighted by Moscow’s propaganda apparatus in the wake of Miss Trump’s endorsement, which formed the basis of nearly a dozen articles published on Sputnik’s website this week in languages ranging from English and German to Vietnamese, Italian, Turkish, French and Japanese.

Repeated attempts to reach the administrators of Miss Trump’s website were unsuccessful, BuzzFeed reported. SkyGuru told the website it has ties to neither Miss Trump nor her father, and denied connections with Rusnano Capital, which Mr. Lebedev helped launch in 2007, according to his LinkedIn profile.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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