Voter information is important for the success of any candidate, but the Trump campaign goes above and beyond in its data collection and propaganda.
A mobile app partnership between the Trump campaign and Phunware, a software company in Austin, was announced May 27th, 2020.
Since then, the Official Trump 2020 app’s level of surveillance, data collection, and voter manipulation has been exposed.
Who is Phunware?
The digital advertising and data sourcing specialists have a questionable track record leading into the presidential campaign.
- Uber launched a fraud suit against Phunware in 2019.
- NASDAQ has sought to delist Phunware over its finances.
- They accepted millions in small business pandemic relief
Why it Matters:
Access to the user's blue-tooth settings and ingrained permission to use beacons to track location allows the app to tailor messaging as someone travels through a space.
Tracking with beacons could go as far as sending targeted ads to voters with the app when they enter a polling station. This practice, known as geo-propaganda, has been implemented in the past through 2016 Republican campaign lawn signs and election in Nigeria and India.
According to a New Yorker reporter who downloaded the app on a burner phone, the Trump app was able to find the email for the name associated with the credit card used to buy the phone and sim card even though it was never disclosed to the app.
Scalability and Reach
The Trump app’s ability to access user’s contacts (emails, phone number, etc.) increases their reach exponentially with each download. For instance, 1.4 million downloads would likely provide contact information for more than 100 million people, many of whom did not consent to the app’s terms.
The app’s various feeds highlight tweets and articles that reinforce Trump’s key talking points and messaging. Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, is a leading voice and broadcaster on the feed. Often, content within the app cites tweets from Trump and his supporters over credible news sources.
What About the Biden Campaign App?
The Biden campaign’s Vote Joe app asks for some permissions, such as running at startup and receiving data from the internet. However, it does not follow the path of the Trump app to obtain bluetooth pairing, phone identity, calendar access, and rewrite data.
Also, the Vote Joe app only accesses contacts to encourage relational organizing. For example, it can offer prompts on how to reach out to people you know about Biden’s candidacy for president.