Aug. 8, 2012 at 3:32 PM ET
Voters whowant to actively support President Barack Obama’s reelection without the addedburden of putting down their iPhones can now turn to Obama for America, a freeapp from the Democratic Party, now available on iTunes. But since it matches voter personal info to locations on a Google map, for the purpose of volunteer canvassing, it comes with a built-in creepfactor.
Lois Beckettof ProPublica points out that the app replaces the clipboards of old with a GPS-synced lists of registered Democrats in your area. We checked it out ourselves, and the allegation is understandable. You can't search for people, or see everyone in every house, but when you log in (via Facebook or Obama's own campaign) to be a canvasser you see a cluster of blueflags.
Each flag represents a home you can visit to get out the vote. But even if you have no intention of knocking on doors, you can click blue flags to find potentialvoters’ first names, last initials, addresses and ages, not to mention a pretty good indicationof whether that potential Obama voter lives alone.
And it bears repeating, allthis info accompanies his or her political party affiliation — a fact plenty ofpeople don’t like to make public.
If the ideaof this information — possibly including your own — is potentially visible to anyone with an iPhone and a Facebook account gives you the wiggins, you’re not alone. Nor is this likely the first or even seventh time a newfeature of high-tech reminded you just how exposed you really are. Thatsaid, all this voter information made available via the Obama for America app isalready out there.
Beckett notes that the canvassinginformation available to volunteers who traditionally pick up printouts of voterinformation at campaign offices. Further, “this isn't the first time campaigns have releaseddigital tools that make voter information freely available,” she writes. “Boththe Obama and Romney campaigns currently have online calling tools that giveanyone who registers for their websites the names and phone numbers of votersto contact.”
Will the immediacy of thisinformation offered through the Obama for America app make it that more likelyto be abused? We gave it a whirl and imagined all sorts of scenarios fit forprocedural crime or political dramas — such as single women who seemed to livealone (or at least are the only registered democrat in the house), andanti-campaign trolls who attempt to fudge campaign data by sitting home on thecouch answering the poll questions and marking off houses visited willy-nilly.
A spokesperson told Beckettthat the campaign is “strongly committed to ensuring the safety and privacy ofthe public and follows up with appropriate action, including alertingappropriate authorities if necessary, in any case of abuse or inappropriatebehavior." And when it comes to erroneous data input via the canvassingtool, the app can detect suspect behavior, "such as people submitting waytoo many voter contacts in a short period of time."
Beckett also points out, it’snot clear if all Democrats in areas assigned to canvassers are provided, orjust those the campaign would like canvassed.
What’s more, we triedreloading canvas locations and found we weren’t able to pinpoint exact areasand, for example, narrow down the political affiliations of our closestneighbors. Which really, if this app were to be abused, that’s likely the way mostof us think of abusing it.
— via ProPublica