Republicans Find a Facebook Workaround: Their Own Apps

In 2016, AggregateIQ paid uCampaign to create the campaign app for Vote Leave, the secessionist side of the British referendum on leaving the European Union. More recently, WPA hired the Canadian company to develop the underlying software used in the Cruz app.

The Times tested several of the apps’ privacy practices and found that, when a user invited a friend to join uCampaign’s N.R.A. app, the app did not send the friend’s information to itself or to other companies. But The Times found that a similar feature on WPA’s Cruz app sent a friend’s contact details to an AggregateIQ domain.

Chris Wilson, the chief executive of WPA Intelligence, said his company, not AggregateIQ, received and controlled app users’ information.

Some political apps, including from uCampaign, also ask users who want to send friends campaign messages to share their contacts. If a user agrees, the app can try to match the contacts to profiles of likely voters, using information provided by a political campaign. As an example, Mr. Peters, the chief executive, described how the Trump app in 2016 was able to match 68 of his 900 contacts to voters in swing states.

“It asked me to send a text to my mom in Michigan saying, ‘Only Trump has a plan to repeal Obamacare,’” Mr. Peters said. “But it asked me to send an email to a friend in Florida saying that ‘only Trump has a plan to build the wall.’”

Mr. Peters turned some of those features, like inviting friends, into a way for users to collect points and gain status within the group. He began incorporating gamelike features into his company’s apps in 2014 as a way to get supporters to participate in political activities.

In July, for instance, the N.R.A. app began offering users 100 points for tweeting a slogan urging their senators to support Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. The messages have since been have tweeted more than 13,300 times.

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