You’re Doing It Wrong!: There’s An App For That? Edition

Also available in Orange and the Stars Hollow Gazette...

Welcome to You're Doing It Wrong, a weekly column taking the Powers That Be (PTB), especially the media and talking heads, to task for poor information and poor framing.

This week, I’m not going after the media and talking heads; instead, I’m going after the PTB for something that I don’t think is well thought through and could result in some rather negative unintended consequences.

As technology has developed, it has made many things in life a whole lot easier, which is awesome. But sometimes that technology, even if it makes things easier, should not be widely available to just anyone.

Last week, the Obama campaign released a new app for the iphone that allows anyone to download a google map with addresses of voters, and includes name, address, age, gender, and party affiliation. They did this to make it easier for anyone to volunteer to go door to door to do GOTV canvassing. I can understand the want to expand this accessibility to a wider pool of grassroots volunteers, but is it really a good idea?

Yes, in this day and age, information on us is collected all day long via our phones, computers, ipads, and discount cards. There are cookies on our web browsers and logs of our purchases, and records of what websites we visit and what we click on. There seems to be no end to the data mining lengths marketers can use to track us, many times unknowable to us who has access to this information. One decent thing about this data mining is that most of these pieces of data are either logged without much personal information or only with the personal information that we choose to give when we sign up for a website or discount card. Another decent thing about it is that the information is not widely and easily available to the public. Neither of these things apply to the new canvassing app now available.

When I sign up for a website, most of them simply require a user name and working email address to register. Then, if I choose to, I can go to my profile page and add information, they key phrase here being “if I choose to”. When I sign up for a discount card, the most they demand is a name and sometimes a phone number in order for the card to work. When I go to a website, my pageview is logged under my IP address or under my user account. But again, even this limited information is not widely available to the public.

However, when I register to vote, I don’t have a lot of privacy options. Most states require your name, physical address, mailing address, date of birth, driver’s license or ID card number, and party affiliation, and many states also require the last 4 digits Social Security number, any felony convictions, and phone number. You don’t have the option in most cases to leave any of this information blank. Now I can understand needing this information for something as important as registering to vote, but having some of it released to the public at large bothers me greatly.

While I know that technically, voter registration information is considered public info, it used to be that access to canvassing information had some gatekeeping involved. In order to obtain that information, you had to be a volunteer with a campaign office, which then meant you had to go and get it from the local campaign office, and they didn’t give it to just anyone. This not only meant you had to sign up with the office, but that you had to actually do the canvassing and the lists had to be returned to the office. A regular person could not just go into a campaign office or the county registrar of voters and simply get this information. I know people did find ways around it, but at least it wasn’t terribly easy. Even with today’s online phone-banking set ups, most of them only give the volunteer the name, phone number, age, gender, and party affiliation of the folks they will be phone- canvassing.

I have a huge problem with having physical addresses available to anyone who wants it. I purposely don’t include my home address on anything where it’s not absolutely required. In my life, I’ve been stalked and harassed before and the last thing I want is someone who may have an issue with me being able to readily find out exactly where I live. In the job I have, people tend to get really mad at me, and the last thing I need is my home address readily available to them. In these days, what with the partisan venom stoked regularly by Faux Noise and its various affiliated talking heads, do we really want to have it so anyone can find out where all the Democrats live in their area? I live in a red state where there’s a very palpable hatred for Democrats and liberals by some of the most ardent right wingers; do we really need to have it be easy for them to get this info? All you have to do is sign up online as an OFA volunteer and that gets you my personal information if you want it? This is stalking made easy, courtesy of the Obama campaign or any other campaign that decides to use something like it. I know the campaign says there are safeguards, but those safeguards only go into effect after the misuse occurs. That certainly doesn't make me very confident.

It was a bad idea in 2008 and it’s a bad idea now. I know it makes things easier for the campaign to GOTV, but at what possible cost? The Obama campaign just gave a little target map to any angry rightie who wants to harass me and you, simply because of our party affiliation. I call bullshit on that. And I can’t see any real way of safeguarding that info in that you can just sign up online to get it, as opposed to actually having to go out of your way and go through actual human beings at the local campaign office to get it.

Releasing an app for finding out people’s home addresses and party affiliation to anyone in order to get out the vote for you is Doing It Wrong! Most people value their privacy, and for some of us that privacy is necessary. So to the Obama campaign, if you want my vote, if you want people to turn out for you, making their personal information available electronically to anyone one who wants it is a bad idea! Instead of opening all of us registered Democrats to possible harassment by anyone in the general public simply because you technologically can, perhaps think about doing it the way it’s always been done. It hasn’t stopped anyone in the past from getting elected and it won’t stop anyone in the future. The best GOTV has always been enthusiasm over a good record; short of that, allowing for anyone to invade people’s privacy is probably not the most effective way to earn a vote.

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when I can

sartoris's picture

If I have to give an address I usually give the address of my old high school. What a remarkably foolish thing for the Obama campaign to do in this day and age.

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I wrote a half page

triv33's picture

anti-McCain editorial for my newspaper in 2008 and while it was somewhat satisfying to see it-- it's not something I'll be doing again anytime soon. They make you use your real name.

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this will simply be used to beg for money

sartoris's picture

they will use this information for nothing more than raising money. They should know that when I feel like donating I know where to send my money, and it's NOT to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Holy Crap.

Glinda's picture

So anybody can buy a burn phone, install the app, go canvass neighborhoods to find out how many adults live there, what are their ages, male or female?

Follow a woman home from work, or the store, use the app to see if any adult males live in the house, assuming everyone who lives there is registered to vote.

This absolutely makes me want to unregister to vote. I'm not kidding. This is scary.

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you're right

sartoris's picture

You're right. As was demonstrated in Wisconsin emotions will run high and some on the right will resort to violence and intimdation. This is a monumentally bad idea. This can put liberals in danger but especially liberals who reside in red areas will now be open targets for any chucklehead with an app and too much time on their Glen Beck sized pea brain.

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Easy to imagine many troublesome scenarios with this

geomoo's picture

It'll be hard to discuss it with partisans who won't get past not wanting to entertain any negative thought about Obama or the campaign. I'm not going to run down the many scenarios my heated brain has already pumped out. I think most of us here get it.

Reading this post caused me to make a new connection in my post-emotion analysis. Mestrovic's theory rests in large part on the analysis of Riesman in The Lonely Crowd. In many ways it starts with Riesman's thesis (which I think is slightly askew, but never mind that)) that in modern culture, people are more other-directed than formerly. For example, before doing anything, we rehearse internally, anticipating the reaction of our peers. Anyway, not to go more into it too far, what I realized is that this other-directedness has rendered us vulnerable to not fully appreciating the problems with loss of privacy. If we have lost our internal sense of privacy, if internally we are never alone, then it can seem perfectly normal to have our private information paraded about in public.

I do think privacy is nearly gone. I think the general understanding of what privacy is, of its value, has been terribly eroded. We are all children of the screen.

Sorry for the wandering into abstraction. I appreciate this clear-headed essay.

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oh yeah... to me, and maybe it's my age...

poligirl's picture

showing, but i take my privacy seriously. having been harassed before makes me pretty careful. i don't mind a lot of stuff being online, but my physical address is a no no....

far too many people take their privacy seriously... and perhaps it sounds crass, but i subscribe to a sort of Darwinesque theory - if you put it out there, don't be surprised when ya get bit. hopefully, the bite won't be bad, but geez, some of the anger out there especially embodied in low info Faux viewers and Glenn Beck fans, scares me... in this database, i didn't choose to put my info out there. and they used to protect that info... apparently they don't anymore...

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I was thinking about getting a cell phone someday.

Big Al's picture

Are they still called cell phones? Anyway, had one a few years back I got for Christmas, one of those pay as you go things. I actually loaded the minutes somehow and used it a few times but after about 3 months I was supposed to do something else, I didn't, and it died. Gave it a proper burial amongst the cofffee grounds and kitty litter.
What we need to do is turn the GOTV into something else, like GOTFCBITL.
(Get out of the fucking country before it's too late).

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I've reached rock bottom,

Big Al's picture

i.e., I don't see much use in voting at all. I've always been kind of like that but now it's become such that I'm trying to walk it back, trying to find rationale that would support at least going for the lessor of two evils not just for the presidency but for all reps.
But shit, I did that four years ago. I got involved at the DK and voted for Obama specifically to get Bush and the repubs out of there. The only question appears to be whether it's worth it to expend effort and vote for democrats this time around for the sole purpose of keeping repubs out. Ridiculous situation to be in.

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The whole Obama ploy was brilliant

geomoo's picture

It was a tipping point. A lot of previously uninvolved people like you and me got involved. To our eternal pain, they saw us coming a mile away and were more than ready for us. And look at us now--largely disheartened, more splintered, often arguing among ourselves, fighting viciously among ourselves for scraps of imagined power. It was brilliant.

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The first time I did phone-banking,

type1error's picture

someone I called demanded DEMANDED that I remove his name from "my list". I was using a voter registration list (sorted by party affiliation) and the phone bank. I apologized for troubling him and told him it was a voter registration list from the county. He yelled, "I don't care! Take my name off the list!" I thought to myself, "I'd love to. I really would."

This is publicly available information and has been at least since I start volunteering in politics back in college (probably earlier, but I don't really know). The difference is that the information is easier to find. If your neighbor REALLY wanted to know your political affiliation, they could have learned that information before the evil Obama came along and even if OFA removes the app, your neighbor will still be able to find that information.

Technology is making the world a smaller place. This is just another example. Sometimes it is creepy and annoying, but it is what it is.

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not saying Obama is evil...

poligirl's picture

saying i think it's a bad idea with too many opportunities for misuse.

no one can just go down to their County Clerks office and get this information. and it used to be you had to go through some minimal effort to get it. most people won't go through that effort if they had bad intentions - there's a good chance their anger would peter out before they got their hands on the info. with this, not so much. now if Billy Bob gets laid off and is angry as hell and thinks that Democrats are to blame, well, all he needs to take it out on some is the app.

i kind of equate it to gun stores versus gun shows. if you have to go to the gun store, there is the waiting period for the background check, therefore providing somewhat of a safeguard what with the time and check. but if i'm angry i can just go to the local gun show and get one now no questions asked no waiting period applied. nothing will ever be wholely preventable, but the extra effort needed at the gun store makes it less likely for those in the heat of anger to go out and get one.

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I know you weren't calling him evil.

type1error's picture

Bad choice of words on my part. I apologize for that.

I just downloaded and played with this tool a little bit. This is amazing, and it will really make canvassing a million times easier. I hate canvassing. Hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it. I did it once and didn't like getting the door slammed in my face. But this tool identifies likely voters for me, people who aren't going to scream socialist at me and reach for the gun. This makes canvassing more efficient. Think about what this could do for campaigns that can't afford to hire field organizers to do canvassing. The right to collectively bargain is protected in the constitution in my state, but we expect that anti-union forces will try to get a repeal amendment on the ballot on some point. A tool like this will be so helpful with community organizing.

Look, I get your point. It's a little creepy. But this is publicly available information. If your neighbor is so crazy that he is hunting down Joe P. Democrat, he'll do that app or not. My car with my Obama bumper sticker is parked in my driveway. My neighbor has a Rick Scott bumper sticker on her car. There are ways to find partisans without using Obama's app!

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Perhaps.

type1error's picture

Or it is simply eliminating the illusion that we ever had any privacy.

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Oh no, it's no illusion

geomoo's picture

During my lifetime, quite plainly, ability to find privacy in most senses of the word has diminished a lot, as well as the extent to which people understand that ability to exert one's individual will within one's society depends on privacy. I won't mention spiritual wisdom because so many people think that's a crock. This is no illusion. Of course, as I mentioned in another comment, when people are terrified to be alone with their own thoughts for more than five seconds, it can be expected that privacy will become undervalued. I'm not sure how to prove this, the evidence seems to me to be everywhere. I do know that this phenomenon is discussed by sociologists.

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there does not need to be a flipping app for everything

sartoris's picture

simply because some information is classified as 'public' does not mean that it should be readily available. I'm not sure what is difficult to understand about this concept. If I exercise my right to vote it does not mean that I'm giving up my right to be left the freak alone in the peace of my freaking castle of a home. I don't want the fuller brush man calling me or the local tea party nut job. I don't have to live off the grid to expect a modicum of privacy and the job of the govt is not to make canvassing easy. I don't care what this can do to make community organizing easier. Think about the harm that this app can be used for before you think about the ease with which it can make your job as an organizer easier. There are some seriously deranged people on the right. No need to take a gun to the local sikh temple, I can just drive over here and to this area and shoot up a bunch of registered dems. Not every transaction I make with the government is falls under the classification of public information.

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In my state the difference is more than that.

triv33's picture

My neighbor can't and never could just go to the voter's registration office and just ask for a copy of the rolls. When you volunteered the list you were given, did you go to the registrar of voters and ask for that list? I'll bet you didn't.

In PA anybody who wants that list has to present valid identification, pay a fee and provide a written statement attesting to the fact that they will not be using the list for purposes unrelated to elections, political activities or law enforcement.

So--in PA, at least, they'd have to REALLY want to know, take a bit of trouble and pony up some ca$h-- not just download an app.

It is what it is all right and what it is is bullshit. jmo~

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I can't remember for sure.

type1error's picture

It's been a long freaking time. We were operating independent of the campaign we were working on. The campaign didn't have an office where we were located, so somebody went and got the list. I don't think it was me. It definitely wasn't an official because we only met with them TWICE during the campaign. I can tell you what happened with the list after we were done phone-banking. It sat in my closet for three years until I found it and took it to recycling.

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It doesn't have to be

triv33's picture

an official here in PA, but they do have to meet the basic requirements: valid ID, fee and written sworn statement.

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Yeah, but so are marriage licenses public information.

Glinda's picture

But I don't have a phone with an app that gives me the information for anyone and everyone who ever got married, that includes the women's mothers' maiden names.

Property tax records are also public information, but again I don't have an app that I can use to walk down a street and see the owners' name of every house I'm standing in front of and see how much they're paying for taxes.

Nor could I go to the town hall and get a total printout of every real estate holding in my town, who owns it, how much they pay in taxes.

Of course there are voter lists, but it takes some time and trouble to get specific lists, and the people they're given to have a purpose.

Anyone can get this app now and they need not have a purpose to attain all this info, nor do they need to properly identify themselves.

I do wish they had an app, though, to lobby Obama and Congress for single payer. That would have been an opt-in app for the greater good.

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Exactly

sartoris's picture

Yes, yes and yes. I'm not interested in making it easier for campaign organizers to bug the crap out of me. Not every transaction that I conduct with the government indicates a willingness by me to give up my privacy. I DO have the right to expect to be left the freak alone in my own freaking castle.

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Um let's not pretend there haven't been other massive steps...

priceman's picture

taking away our privacy candidate Obama said he wouldn't do. NO, war on terror/FISA loving Obama and his cultists, yes some people in OFA are cultists and act like stalkers, don't need this info at a drop of a hat and it's not that easy to go get the info either. They won't give it at my local polling place. It matters whether someone can conveniently harass you or whether they have to jump through hoops.

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I agree with you on everything but "act like stalkers,"

Glinda's picture

I think that's a bit harsh, but my fear is that real stalkers unrelated to any political party will be using this app for nefarious reasons. That's my real objection to this app.

Just for curiosity sake, I'd like to know how much creating this app cost. It had to be millions. Because as stated above here, it is NOT so easy to gather all this information. And the fact that they obviously had hundreds, probably thousands of people offering up the information to the developers of the app, and then the hours and hours it took to input this information, yes, millions.

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Um, I'm talking specifically about people on the GOS

priceman's picture

I've seen this behavior and it's not made up. I'm sorry if you misunderstood, misread, and think this was directed at type1error because it was not at all in what I wrote at all. Some people means some people and some people in OFA do act like stalkers. Look at the Peoples Spew.

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I actually don't think that's too harsh

sartoris's picture

Some of them are cultists. However, that's just my opinion. This is an app that will absolutely be used for nefarious purposes. I can almost guarantee that within 5 years there will be some sort of murder connected to this app and a deranged tea partier.

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Indeed, sartoris

priceman's picture

Like I'm going to just say something like that without it being true. Hell Glenn Greenwald can attest to it.

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