Political App Wants You To Sell Out Your Friends

Privacy is hard because once you lose exclusive knowledge of your personal information you can no longer control its proliferation, which is why Benjamin Franklin said, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Making matters worse is that personal information is very valuable. Can you trust everybody who, for example, has your phone number not to give it out to unsavory sorts, especially when they believe they’re getting something in return? Ted Cruz’s campaign is betting on your friends being Benedict Arnolds by providing them with your contact information in exchange for imaginary Internet points:

Whenever a new user logs in, the app asks for access to their phone’s contact list. Turning over that information earns a user 250 points. By comparison, a contribution only gets 10 points.

“While we don’t keep anything that they share, what it does allow us to do is identify within a person’s contact list, those voters that may be part of our core targeting list,” Wilson says.

The campaign is searching for information — names, address, phone numbers — that match up with possible Cruz voters. “We have scored the entire national voter file, in terms of their likelihood to support Ted Cruz,” Wilson says. “So if we identify that you have 10 friends in Iowa who are potential Cruz supporters, then we’ll ask you to reach out to those people.”

I’m not sure how Wilson can claim Cruz’s campaign doesn’t keep any collected information and then claim it uses that information to identify potential supporters. The only way to match up such data is if you have it on hand. There is also the question of what criteria they use to determine if a person in your contact list is a potential supporter. My guess is they call to hit them up for a campaign contribution.

In addition to being an example of scummy behavior this story is a great demonstration of how hard maintaining privacy is. If one of your friends is a rabid Cruz supporter would you trust them not to hand over your contact information in exchange for imaginary Internet points (which are posted on a leaderboard so Cruz supporters can see who the most pious supporters are)? I know I have several friends who would gladly do that for Rand Paul’s campaign.

Every person or company that possesses personal information about you is a potential leak and often it is in their best interest to leak your information.