A new iPhone app campaign tool released by the Obama for President Campaign last week is raising privacy concerns among activists who worry about the potential for misuse. The iOS app, to be released for Android tomorrow, allows users to see already public information about registered voters, including their first name, last initial, age, gender, and street address.
The app is freely available to the public, even though it was created for use by campaign workers to help locate, register and ask local Democratic voters for money. It also allows users to find nearby political events, and send out announcements to Twitter and Facebook.
Obviously, the Obama campaign thinks the app is a fantastic tool to get people involved at the grassroots level. The app helps hundreds of staff and other volunteers with voter drives that will help more Democrats get to voting booths in the coming election.
The problem here is that the app has the name and address of registered Democratic voters in an esily accessed format, literally at anyone’s fingertips.
“The concern is making it available to people who may have bad intent and that fear could deter people from giving money” or otherwise participating in the political process, said Justin Brookman, a consumer privacy expert at the Center for Democracy and Technology.
The Obama campaign promises to take every step to protect people’s privacy, but what the app does isn’t illegal, nor is it private information.
“They are aggregating a whole bunch of public records and using location-aware mapping technology,” said Lior Strahilevitz, a law professor at University of Chicago. “If a corporation or a political campaign wants to use that information and disseminate it in a useful way, there is no violation of American privacy laws.”
Republican candidate Mitt Romney has his own campaign mobile app as well, though it is more of an information app, telling supporters about his running mate, for example.
Technology and apps for the iPhone will increasingly be used by both the public and for reasons both legal and ethical. IT does raise the issue, however, of what information is actually publicly available. Registering to vote does indeed provide the information listed above. Does participating in our public process take away our privacy? Let’s hope people aren’t scared off from voting now that they realize how un-private their information really is.