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Smartphone App Lets Russians Call Out Bribes

Since it went active last week, the Bribr app has logged 1.55 million rubles (almost $50,000) in bribes. Corruption in Russia has been estimated to amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
MOSCOW -- Have you ever wanted to see an interactive map of all the bribes that change hands in Russia?

Well soon you may be able to thanks to a new smartphone application released for free download by a group of entrepreneur activists.

Bribr, a smartphone app designed by a team of 20 volunteer Muscovites, allows users to register bribes they have had to pay on their mobile phones and then automatically pinpoints them on an interactive map online.

The idea is that the map -- depending on its popularity -- will portray an entire constellation of payoffs frenziedly passing hands across Russia's nine time zones.

Yevgenia Kuida, 25, who founded Bribr, hopes it will raise awareness and contribute to a public movement against corruption.

"The main idea is basically to raise more attention to bribes, to provoke more interest," Kuida says. "We really believe that if you send the same message all the time to people and they see it, then potentially their attitude might change."

Since it went active last week, the app has logged 1.55 million rubles (almost $50,000) in bribes. Corruption in Russia has been estimated to amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

According to Bribr's website, bribes for faking exams to get into university or for getting a child into kindergarten account for almost 70 percent of reports thus far. Bribes to traffic police account for some 8.5 percent.

The interactive map shows the bulk of reports came from Moscow, which has been the epicenter of anti-Kremlin street protests attended by the tech-savvy younger generations.

Something New In Moscow

Discontent over day-to-day corruption is a major irritant for Russians and alleged falsifications in the parliamentary elections in December 2011 drove many Muscovites onto the streets and into civic activism against corruption. Anticorruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Russia 143rd in the world for its perceived levels of corruption.

Kuida says she and her 20 colleagues who made the app are working for free and that this exemplifies this year's rise in civic activism.

"It's a very new thing for Russia. I've never experienced anything like that in Moscow before: people who have day jobs, professionals, great guys in their field, who want to sacrifice their own time and come meet every week for two hours in central Moscow," Kuida says.

"It's great to see people so committed and talking about the problem."

Aleksei Navalny, a leading opposition figure who made his name in anticorruption activism, called the app "cool" on Twitter and posted a link to the app website.

So far, the only hitch that Bribr has faced was clearing the app with Apple, which, she says, initially thought Bribr was encouraging the practice of bribing before they gave it the green light.

"What they were saying [was] that we are encouraging illegal behavior and 'can you please worsen the design a bit' because it was so joyful and playful that people would actually want to bribe in order to play with the app more," Kuida says.