Obama and Romney election apps suck up personal data, research finds

Intrusive access

Millions of US voters could be downloading smartphone apps created to promote the campaigns of President Obama and his Republican election rival Mitt Romney without noticing the intrusive permissions demanded by the software, GFI Software has reported.

Looking at the 'Obama for America' and 'Mitt's VP' apps for Android and iOS, the company uncovered a surprising volume of information users will be giving up to the candidate's campaign databases on themselves and even their friends and families.

Romney's app asks not only for a person's name, address and home phone number to create a 'MyMitt' account, but (failing that) a connection to Facebook able to collect data there, including on friends.

It also notices a user's device ID, mobile number, carrier, GPS and cell locations and warns them they might be added to the Romney campaign's contact list, presumably for priority telephone canvassing. It even asks for permission to access the smartphone's camera and audio recording, although this isn't used by the app.

The Obama for America app is similarly nosy, asking for cell and GPS location data, as well as access the smartphone's contact book and call logs and SD Card contents.

Controversially, the app was reported last week to offer users information on nearby registered voters, including first name and last name initial and even home address.

It then encourages downloaders to visit these people to campaign on behalf for President Obama's re-election, supplying canvassing tips on arguments to use on door-stopping trips.

"When checking out this particular feature, it [the app] told me to go canvassing in part of town locally known for a higher crime rate. Users should be aware of their surroundings in any area they visit regardless of what a mobile app tells them," notes GFI Software threat researcher, Randall Griffith.

The ostensible purpose of both apps is different; Obama's is a straight canvassing tool for use in swing states while Romney's was supposed to be a way for supporters to hear news of his chosen vice-presidential candidate.

Both are also information-gathering systems that might feed data into a future generation of more powerful and equally intrusive apps. Hopefully, by that time, voters will be more aware of what they are getting themselves into when they agree to install such software.

Last week, security company Barracuda noticed that Mitt Romney's Twitter account had received a suspiciously large boost to its numbers in a matter of days in late July, a movement it ascribed to the ceration of large numbers of bogus accounts.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by John E Dunn

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts