By GARANCE BURKE, The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign was powered by a cellphone app that allowed employees to monitor the movements of their millions of supporters, and offered intimate access to their social networks.
While the campaign is being discontinued, the data strategy is very much alive, and the digital details collected can put the app into many other uses – to fund fundraising for the president’s future political undertakings, Trump’s base To stoke, or to create an audience a new media empire
The app lets Trump’s team communicate directly with 2.8 million people – who downloaded it – more than any other app in the US presidential campaign – and if they allow, even with their entire contact list.
Once installed, it can track the app and their behavior in the physical world, make headlines, raise money, sell mega merchandise and large, according to the app’s physical policy and user interface Can sync with text operations.
Yet the venture software company that built a tool to advance Trump’s mass movement is in financial crisis and, according to interviews with former employees, financial filings and court documents, significant support from the administration and presidential campaign Have received.
Austin-based Funware Inc., whose stock is traded for pennies, recently agreed to pay Uber $ 4.5 million as part of a settlement over fake advertising claims and from Nasdaq earlier this year There was a risk of being removed. In April, the company received a $ 2.9 million loan under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act as it was building the Trump campaign app.
The watchman and former staffer of the campaign are taken aback at how a struggling startup more known for creating apps for hospitals and Manhattan-based astrologers became a juggle in Trump’s bid to reunite, leading to a sustained Data and fundraising were attempted, giving the company a financial lifeline.
While activity on the app slowed down recently, this rich data gathered on Trump’s supporters, including everything from their contacts to their IP addresses to their locations, could serve many purposes going forward , Adav Noti, a former Federal Election Commission now with the nonpartisan campaign legal center.
He said that Congress and the FEC have not decided how campaigns can use people’s personal data and which campaigns can sell their inventory.
“You can definitely buy the data and the campaign can sell it to you, the tricky question is how much you have to pay for it,” Noti said.
Funeware declined to answer questions about the app, the company’s financial position, its internal culture and its relationship to the campaign.
CEO Alan Knitowski stated, “Funware has no role in the constitutional processes associated with US elections at any level … and they also have no role in the content created by our customers for our mobile software or enterprise cloud platforms “Said in an email.
The campaign declined to answer questions about potential future uses for pro-data collected through digital platforms, including the Funware app.
“The data is owned by the campaign and limits whoever hits their servers,” a senior Trump campaign official said on condition of anonymity.
As Funeware has challenged financial times, it has shed staff, customers and investors, 10 of whom agreed to speak with the Associated Press, on condition of anonymity because they have signed non-disclosure agreements. Signed or feared retaliation.
Funware sued its customer Uber in 2017, with court records accusing the ride-sharing company of failing to pay its fees. But after Uber filed a lawsuit against Funware, accusing the software company of committing fraud, among other things, allowing ads for the ride-sharing app to be shown on porn sites, former employees said the startup lost its revenue Seen to diversify the stream.
Carl George, President George W. Bush’s former advisor, told the Associated Press that he severed ties between Funware employees and Trump’s 2016 campaign digital director Brad Parscale.
“I felt it had a lot of implications for politics, so in later conversations I mentioned it to Brad Parscale,” Rowe said. “He said ‘interesting’ and that was it, he never told me that he hired him.”
Nietowski said in an email that he had links with the campaign.
“Funware met the Trump campaign directly through me after a 1: 1 introduction from the CEO of Silicon Valley, requesting our views and participation in the RFP, which also had Salesforce as a finalist,” said Nietowski.
In early 2019, after Funeware went public, former aides said that Nietowski aspired to bring the Trump campaign to court. In April, 15 percent of Funeware employees were placed under “securities restructuring and cost reductions,” the Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
In August, there was something new to announce: work with American Med Media Consultants, “otherwise known as the ‘Trump-Pence 2020’ and ‘Keep America Great’ campaigns,” Nitzowski said in an earnings call.
According to a document filed two months later with the Federal Communications Commission, the company’s directors included campaign operations director Sean Dollman and campaign attorney Alex Cannon.
Funware would later reveal more details about its work on the Trump app, including location-based tools and other features to help new users campaign. In addition, there will be a game loyalty system, where supporters can accumulate points to spend on a signed MAGA cap or currency for a photo with Trump.
By September 2019, after client Fox Network Group moved away, 18 percent of the remaining employees were taken with them, taking a large percentage of sales of Funware, according to the filing.
In April, as coronavirus cases increased, Funware received a $ 2.9 million loan from the US Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, a relief fund created to help small businesses hire Congress.
Funware COO Randall Crowder denied political partisanship, loaning Funware in a recorded interview.
The following month, Nasdaq informed the company that it could be distributed on its finances. To remain listed, firms must meet standards to assure investors that since the initial public offering, they remain a reliable company.
SEC records show that as of July, American Med Media Consultants accounted for a third of all Funware sales, paying more than $ 1.6 million to Funware in the first half of 2020.
As the epidemic kept people at home, Trump’s campaign used the app to remotely acquire new users. The app received 2.8 million downloads by mid-November, according to online data provider Aptopia.
Laptop CEO Eliran Sapir speculated that the campaign could give phone numbers to millions of people who are able to reach people whose points are stored in their friends’ contact lists, but don’t have the consent to contact them. A Carnegie Mellon University researcher, however, estimated that a total of 27 million would be due to duplicate phone numbers.
In Thursday’s SEC filing, Funware suddenly stopped naming its top customers. But by matching accounting figures to previous filings, AP derived that American Med Media Consultants are Funeware’s largest clientele, and paid Funeware $ 2.4 million in the first 9 months of 2020, nearly half of Funeware’s revenue. There is a third.
Two former employees concurred. The app developer also revealed a massive debt and expressed “substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a concern”.
Associated Press writer Bernard Condon in New York Contributed to this story. Follow Garance Burke at http://twitter.com/garanceburke. To contact AP’s investigative team, email email@example.com.
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