Stalk a Democrat today: Obama for America app

Available free on iTunes, the stated purpose includes, “Get out the vote: Access voting and registration rules for your state, help register friends, and make sure supporters get to the polls on Election Day.” On-site reviews are favorable. “This is great! A sophisticated app to keep volunteers engaged.”

But privacy activists are concerned. The way to ‘make sure supporters get to the polls’ is first by locating them. Linked to Google Maps, the app places a small blue flag over the homes of registered Democratic voters. Drilling down gives details such as name, age, sex and address. This is available to anyone, not just registered Democrat volunteers or election staffers.

It’s all perfectly legal. "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.” But privacy activist Shaun Dakin tweeted, “total #privacy fail.. log in to the Obama app, map your neighborhood, figure out a) who is a DEM b) how old they are.” The combination of sex, age and address is what worries many.

ProPublica spoke to ‘Lori C., 58 F, Democrat.’ “I do think it's something useful for them, but it's also creepy,” she said when she was shown the app. “My neighbors across the street can know that I'm a Democrat. I'm not sure I like that.”

The days of political door-stepping with a clipboard are passing to be replaced by door-stepping with a tablet. Or possibly a con-artist pretending to take donations for your preferred candidate, and particularly targeting the aged. The danger is that new technology designed to engage the political process may have the opposite effect: the public may turn away in order to avoid appearing on political lists.

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