Trump Campaign Deploying Phone Location-Tracking Technology

President Donald Trump’s reelection effort has retained the services of a technology company that specializes in the mass collection of smartphone location data, which can be used to track voters for political targeting purposes. Phunware, an Austin, Texas-based firm, announced the connection in a little-noticed press release in October, touting “new and existing customer wins including American Made Media Consultants,” the consulting firm set up this year by Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale to handle advertising services for a variety of official Trump reelection PACs. The release noted that the deal was signed in conjunction with the Trump-Pence 2020 reelection effort. A growing subset of advertising firms rely on data brokers that use third-party apps — from popular mobile games to apps used for checking the weather, perfecting a selfie, and online banking — to harvest vast troves of information about potential voters. Phunware, in a section of its website, discusses the company’s ability to obtain GPS location data and the Wi-Fi network used by an individual, as well as user data that can infer an “individual’s gender, age, lifestyle preferences” — potential tools for identifying and influencing voters.

The company claims to offer a wide range of services based on user location data. Individuals who attend a political rally or protest can be identified as potential targets for ads, a technique known as geofencing. Location data can provide insights into how long a shopper spends at a particular clothing store, type of religious venues, or the night clubs they tend to frequent.

“Unfortunately Phunware does not comment on customer-specific data or information,” wrote Brent Brightwell, a spokesperson for Phunware, when contacted about the company’s work with Trump campaign. “Please contact the Trump reelection campaign directly should you have any questions about their activities or efforts.” The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

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