By Abby Shamray
Tech & Innovation Writer
Presidential candidate Ted Cruz has an app. It is nothing too groundbreaking—it provides Ted Cruz-related news, an events calendar, and, to make campaign-supporting into a game, ways to make your way to the top of the “Cruz’s Crew” leaderboard through sharing, donating, and volunteering. It is not the idea behind the app that has been controversial, but with headlines like NPR’s “Cruz’s Crew: You Play The Game, But It’s the Cruz Campaign That Scores,” even those who are not Cruz fans are taking notice for one important reason: user privacy.
The app has the ulterior motive of getting a user’s contact list information to “identify potential voters,” as well as getting the user’s name, email, address, etc. Evidently, personal information is so important to the campaign’s efforts that giving the app access to one’s phone contact list is worth 250 “Action Points” whereas a contribution is worth a mere 10.
The outrage over the app is indicative of the United States’ public’s current feelings about Internet privacy and data mining. While users love going to services such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, they don’t like the oddly specific advertisements and, even less, the data breaches that are revealed seemingly more and more often. In response, efforts from the policymakers, think tanks, and advocacy groups have arisen to try to respond to the lack of privacy users are facing. Despite the many privacy supporters, making user privacy a norm is facing opposition.
The controversial Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) passed in Congress despite a series of attempts to change the measures that many fear would compromise user privacy. CISA main intention was to put a stop to the recent flood of data security breaches by allowing companies to share security threat data with the Department of Homeland Security, reported WIRED. As Amie Stepanovich of the digital civil liberties group Access Now for a WIRED op-ed, “A world where a company is forced to betray its users in order to protect them is backwards indeed.”
This past summer, Belgium’s data protection regulator took Facebook to court because of the “datr” cookie that Facebook leaves in the browser of anyone who visits Facebook, not just its registered users. Bart Tommelein, Belgian secretary of state for the protection of privacy, said in a statement to Reuters that, “Facebook cannot follow people on the internet who are not members of Facebook which is very logical because they cannot have given permission to follow them,” according to Reuters. The court ordered the social media company to cease tracking non-Facebook users in Belgium within 48 hours or pay a daily fine of $269,000 until they stopped.
The fact of the matter is that companies have found a way to monetize user data. As Rishi Shah wrote in an article for Umbel, “After all, in our current digital age, services (like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) seem free, but we are paying with our data.” Using the data is an important component of being profitable for companies that offer free services. As Cruz’s app shows, getting that personal information is often times worth more to a company than the parts that result in the user directly putting money into the company’s pocket. The issue that lawmakers and advocates are striving for is how to make sure users privacy is respected without compromising companies’ main way of driving profits.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 17th print edition.
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