January 27, 2017
Overcome Your Fears with Technology
Alex Gervash, the founder of SkyGuru mobile app, comments on espionage accusations and gives advice on how to conquer fears
Yesterday Buzzfeed wrote an article, claiming that SkyGuru, which was recommended by Ivanka Trump in her Twitter account earlier this week, is used to track users' personal data. This has created a wave of negative comments, in which users insisted on boycotting Russian IT-products. Founder of SkyGuru — a pilot with 22 years of experience who has been helping people to overcome fear of flying for over 9 years — in his response discusses where such xenophobic fears come from, whether startup ideas have borders, and how to react to accusations of espionage.
In the last few days we've heard the reactions of some of the users regarding the Russian-Israeli roots of our team. The question is what is truly causing such reactions? Xenophobia (fear of strangers) is very similar to fear of flying — and it can be and need to be treated. In my work I often come across people who build barriers around themselves based on their fears.

Many of my clients lost interesting job opportunities because of their fear of flying. Many jeopardized their family lives. Because of fears we often lose what we could have had, but had never even tried getting. Fears reduce quality of life.

The basis of fear is trust deficit. People with phobias and panic attacks often see a lot more danger and deceit than there really are. "If somewhere there was a plane crash, then I will most likely get into one." "If somewhere someone sometime spied on someone, then most likely SkyGuru is spying on me."

People tend to look for confirmation of their beliefs and fears. And find them, even if there are none. We all want to be right in our beliefs. Twenty two years ago, when I was just learning to fly an airplane, we were taught to fly not by instruments, but by visual contact with objects on the ground. We were taught not to get caught by what is called confirmation bias. It means that people see what they want to see and not what is real. I remember that my teacher often told us: "if you are expecting to see a lake and a house on the right hand side after flying for 10 minutes straight north, you will see them. Even if you fly south by mistake and there are no lakes or houses whatsoever." This is how our brain works.

Strong and smart people do not follow their fears. They fight them and win over them. Although, of course, it is much easier to follow your false assumptions and not do anything about them. Scared of flying? Don't fly. Scared to be spied on? Accuse everyone of espionage. Scared of enclosed spaces? Take the stairs to the 20th floor. And this is the choice of so many people. Hopefully, not yours.

Three simple tips on how to overcome such fears:

1. Allow the thought that the problem might be in you. For example, aerophobia is called phobia just that because it is irrational. Meaning that there are no problems with the planes, but there are problems in the mind of those who are scared to fly.

2. Learn about the object of your fear. Scared of flying? Learn about the aviation world. Scared that SkyGuru is somehow tracking you? Learn about App Store Review Guidlines of Apple. You will find out that all data in any app that does not require registration — is absolutely impersonal. Learn how SkyGuru works and what it does before finding confirmation bias to your beliefs.

3. Act against your fears! Scared to fly — fly! Scared of enclosed spaces? Use elevators as much as possible. Fear go away when you start acting instead of just talking about them.

A couple of days ago we received a message from one of the app users from Denmark: "Thanks very much indeed! I was in a plane crash. And I have severe flashbacks when flying now. But I must fly. And so I will use your app when I fly for the first time in 5 years in early February". This is exactly the kind of stories that inspire us to move forward and work on SkyGuru.

I am an Israeli citizen, pilot and psychologist, who helps people to overcome their fears. I came up with the idea of SkyGuru and created it with a team of russian developers. I am very pleased that Ivanka Trump mentioned SkyGuru. But our team has no connections to her, her family, or Trump's administration. We believe that Ivanka Trump's Team recommended our app as a result of SkyGuru being mentioned on the lists of top-app for travellers. Forbes included SkyGuru in the 10 best Christmas gifts for travelers, Condé Nast Traveller mentioned us among top travel tips of all times. We also got good reviews from Independent, Business Insider, VentureBeat, Daily Mail, and The Telegraph. We have received positive feedback from around the world.

We do not conceal the fact that SkyGuru uses location services — just like any other app (e.g. Uber, Google, Waze, Booking.com, and thousands of others). 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.

Many Russian and Israeli programmers, engineers, entrepreneurs and founders work in almost all world leading companies — Google, Facebook, Apple, Uber, and many others. Many successful companies and apps were developed by people from Russia and Eastern Europe: Telegram, Prisma, MSQRD, Luka, FindFace. 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. We are proud to be part of these efforts.

Alex Gervash

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