Obama Mobile App Raises Privacy Concerns
The Obama campaign has a new tool to help campaign volunteers connect with Democrats. According to the Washington Post, the Obama for America Iphone and Android app shows the location of nearby democrats and makes the address, first name, and last initial of registered voters available to volunteers, or anyone who has downloaded the application.
The current location of individuals is only available if the person has downloaded the app and chosen to share their location.
Mark Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center told the Post "Party affiliation is public information, available through the state voter registration records. I don’t see the problem there."
Social networking researcher Danah Boyd points out two reasons we should be concerned with the re-use of publicly available personal information in her article "Facebook's Privacy Trainwreck: Exposure, Invasion, and Drama." Boyd writes about the changes to Facebook's privacy policies in 2006 that made it easier to see information that was already publicly available. She points to Exposure; making publicly available information easier to discover, and Invasion; how that access to information changes your relationship with people, as two reasons we should be concerned.
The Obama administration has recently come under fire (a good summary is available here from Politico) for a poor transparency record, making the use of personal information in this app ironic.
While the Obama administration may be the first to make an app like this publicly available, it certainly won't be the last.