Trump’s App has deep implications for the future of digital privacy and political crowd involvement.
Donald Trump has always been an infamously proactive Twitter user, but his campaign has now taken the next savvy step in digital outreach by joining a trend that now pervades pricey electronic goods, from a drone to a plant pot, and most recently, political campaigns: an application.
The app’s “gamification” of donations, attending rallies and other means of supporting the candidate make supporting Trump into a public competition of racking up the most points – hopefully this does not opaque the value of content itself. The competitive element provides a powerful incentive to flood social media with Trump propaganda, while the simple “donate feature” seeks to increase campaign revenue from digital sources from citizens à la Bernie.
America First: privacy does not make the list of Trump’s values
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s App is named America First: the very title incites patriotism and portrays him as a defendant of America and its values, but perhaps privacy does not make the list.
For campaigns to target segments of the population in an intelligent, informed way is not new, and the scale and depth of the process has been augmented by social media and email: gone are the days of address books and phone calls. The same process is the lifeblood of “free” service providers like Google and Facebook, which are adept at offering smart, cost-effective and customizable advertising services: advertising is the former and the latter’s main source of revenue, as the information they collect from users can be harnessed to anonymously profile users and tap into real potential clients.
What distinguishes Trump’s App from the rest are the almost abusive lack of restriction with which it farms user’s data in a greedy grab for anything useful, including your friend’s address and phone number.
“Fundamentally, you have one person deciding to use the app…All of this sensitive information of all these other people … is ending up with the Trump campaign if that individual clicks ‘I agree.'” – Nicole Ozer, American Civil Liberties Union
Perhaps most outrageous of all, it even goes so far as to explicitly dissociate itself from the responsibility of monitoring or limiting third parties’ use of the data – meaning it could be sold and used commercially. Not everyone is comfortable with this, to say the least.
We are all aware of Trump’s stance on data protection: he made it clear with the San Bernardino phone case, where he blatantly supported the FBI’s demand that Apple install a controversial “back end” for “the good guys” to access private information. He believes in forfeiting the public’s right to privacy for the sake of ulterior motives. Then it was National Security. Now, it is his campaign’s database: the gold mine for donors that campaigns have strived for.
Why does it go to such outrageous lengths to gobble up user information?
Because information is money, votes and popularity on social media. It can be used to sway certain users by directing content to them, on the issues that matter the most to them, or to expand the donor pool. And yet, consumer privacy should not be another victim of the heated 2016 campaign, like so many other things have already been, including professional debating and avoiding racial/religious profiling. Let’s not take another backwards step.
Most concerning of all, the application forebodes a potential presidency that, in adopting this same approach of defiling user privacy, exposes users to invasive, whimsical policies, like the Muslim monitoring program.
Applications are ubiquitously in our pockets. They are simple, easy to use and hassle-free – if you don’t read the small print. Having witnessed the massive potential of enhanced reality applications, as illustrated by Pokémon Go’s runaway success, it’s obvious that social, augmented reality technologies, compounded with the great age of mobile tech and smartphones, allow for new and exciting ways for developers, businesses and politicians to interact with people. It is very smart for Trump to harness this into an application – part of a recent $8.4 investment on digital advertising by the Trump campaign – and also very dangerous in the precedent that it sets.
Nonetheless, there is a clear silver lining: the bout of campaign apps heralds the advent of an exciting age: massively interactive politics, where citizens are more connected, represented and involved than ever before, through the exploitation of digital technologies. Hopefully, one day, applications will not be confined to satiate campaign’s thirst for data or donations, but will allow citizens to connect with their representatives better.