Philadelphia’s 311 app is down and the city is redirecting users to an insecure website

Christopher Sherman is a self-proclaimed “superuser” of the Philly 311 app. Graffiti removal, missed trash pickup, abandoned cars – the Fishtown resident says he’s reported 408 incidents to City Hall so far.

“It’s a wonderful app when it works,” said Sherman, 40, who works in IT. “I don’t need to know the right department to call or be friends with my counselor because the street lights are out.”

Now ten years old, Philly 311 is a powerful tool for residents to request basic city services. But when Sherman now opens the app on his Android phone, he receives an unfortunate message: “Oops, something went wrong.”

The source of this “oops?”

The Philly 311 app has been down for some users for at least a month. City officials have confirmed two issues so far: the Facebook login feature for users has been discontinued since December, and as of this week an unknown number of Android users like Sherman no longer have access at all. to the mobile app.

“Unfortunately, we cannot quantify the number of Android users affected,” said city spokeswoman Irene Contreras-Reyes.

And while it’s unclear how many app users have been affected, The Inquirer has heard numerous complaints from residents who say they’ve had issues logging into the app for the past month and can’t find any apps. easy explanations.

In response to questions from The Inquirer, officials also inadvertently revealed another cybersecurity issue: the online 311 portal is on an unsecured website.

With problems piling up on the mobile app, officials directed frustrated users to the city’s 311 online site to file their service requests. But the link takes people to a webpage that browsers identify as insecure, meaning user data could be vulnerable to hackers.

Officials could not explain why or for how long the government-run site had been using an insecure connection on Friday, but a “multidisciplinary team” was tasked with investigating the problem after The Inquirer raised questions. Questions.

“We will have answers to that question by next week because it involves multiple areas, not just 311,” Contreras-Reyes said.

According to data from 311, residents have filed at least 50,000 complaints a month since March last year as quality of life issues continue to besiege residents of the city. Trash pickup delays have been relentless throughout the pandemic. Last fall, an expired contract sent complaints about the city’s streetlight outages skyrocketing.

How to fix your 311 application

The vendor hired by the city to maintain the app, Accela, is working on a solution to Facebook’s problem. In the meantime, they have provided the following workaround for frustrated users:

  • If you are using the iOS app, upgrade the app to the latest version – it is now on version 4.3.0. They are still working on Android fixes.

There is a workaround for both apps until you can upgrade them:

  • For Android users, go to device settings for the app and clear app storage/data, then relaunch the app and sign in again.
  • For iOS users, log out of the app and log back in. If this feature is not accessible, uninstall and reinstall the app from the App Store.

An insecure website usually means that it may not be encrypted, which makes it much more vulnerable to hackers. Generally speaking, cybersecurity experts warn people not to use unsecured sites and not to enter personal information while browsing one of them. (Note: If you are entering Portal 311 from a domain, Google Chrome will list the connection as secure.)

But city officials nonetheless urged residents struggling with apps to use the unsecured website and log in with email addresses and passwords. Alternatively, users can submit anonymous requests, which cannot be easily tracked for progress updates. The 311 call center also remains full from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., officials said.

Officials did not make a public announcement regarding the Facebook login issue, but instead responded to some individual comments and directed users to other means of filing complaints, such as dialing the 311 call center. or use the unsecured web portal. Earlier this week, after The Inquirer asked questions, officials also included a notice on the website notifying users of issues with the mobile app and the Facebook login feature.

City officials said they asked app provider Accela to remove the option to log in with Facebook in December, but the provider said the city should “wait for the next release to remove the option to log in with Facebook.” login to facebook”. However, the issue could be resolved by then, officials said.

Notably, many 311 users report that the app is working very well and that the agency has continued to receive tens of thousands of calls over the past month.

For Android users experiencing issues with 311, the resolution time is unclear. Some users told The Inquirer that uninstalling and reinstalling the app seemed to fix the problem.

For others, not so much.

About Donald J. Beadle

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