Home Grown Political Canvassing and an IPHOne Application

Dave Addey, an application developer for Apple Products and the wiz behind the popular blog, This Much I know, put up an interesting post today about a political canvassing application launched by the conservative party in Britain. In a qualified sense, the application is savvy, easy to use and verging on very smart and I suspect we'll see a lot of copy cat applications in the coming months and in coming election cycles (I myself am dreading the November elections in the US). According to Dave, here's the gist of it: 'Imagine that a Conservative voter – let’s call him Peter – wants to campaign on behalf of the Conservative Party. He installs their app, and taps the “Call a friend” button. He sees some brief instructions, and taps "Continue." Peter then sees a list of everyone in his iPhone’s address book. He decides to call a friend – let’s call him Bob – to talk about the Conservatives. Peter taps on Bob’s name in the list, and sees Bob’s contact details. Peter taps on Bob’s phone number to call him. They have a nice chat about the Conservatives. Despite Peter’s best efforts, Bob politely indicates that he’s intending to vote for Labour in the upcoming election. After the call, Peter re-opens the app. He sees a screen with Bob’s name, address and postcode filled in from his address book. He adds any notes from the call, and indicates Bob’s likely voting intention. Peter then taps “Send email”. The app creates a new email to callafriend@myconservatives.com. Peter sends this email to the Conservatives. Bob’s voting intention is now displayed below his name in the app’s “Call a friend” list.' It seems easy enough, but it does raise some interesting questions about privacy laws and transparency. As Dave is quick to point out, Bob has know idea about what he's gotten himself into nor has he consented to have his information used in future campaign efforts. Following Dave's post on his blog, the Conservative Party's Application store was updated with the following disclaimer: When using the “Call A Friend” feature, please confirm that you have the consent of the friend or relative whose details you are passing on to us. The Conservative Party will inform your friend or relative how it obtained his or her details. Information obtained by the Conservative Party from this App will not be used for electronic mailing purposes.

Yet the lines remain blurry, and I expect citizens will be asking for more protection or clearer guidelines as political parties and candidates exploit new technologies for political ends.