Inauguration committee clarifies how app collects data


Preparations continue on the US Capitol for the second inauguration of US President Barack Obama in Washington, DC, on January 17, 2013. Obama faces a near impossible task in his second inaugural address on January 21, uniting a nation in which the compromise that oils governing is crushed by deep political divides. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
January 17, 2013

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has clarified how the app it released to provide the public with more information about the big event Monday deals with personal data.

Earlier this week, Politico reported that the app and PIC Web site may add unwitting users to the rolls of possible donors for the Democratic Party by collecting e-mails, phone numbers and home addresses.

PIC national spokeswoman Addie Whisenant confirmed in a statement to The Post that the Web site allows PIC to share information “in ways consistent with its mission.” But the app itself, the group said, is far more limited when it comes to collecting personal information.

By design, the app allows — but does not require — users to submit their cellphone numbers and location information. Without that information, parts of the app do not fully function, but users can access things such as news and video on the app without giving up any information. In other words, it’s perfectly possible to use the app without giving anything away.

“Contrary to some concerns, the app only collects one sort of user data: cellphone numbers that users voluntarily share and can opt out of sharing, for use in sending texts to users – such as late-breaking changes and emergency updates,” said PIC national spokeswoman Addie Whisenant in a statement to The Post. “The app has no way to collect e-mails, names or other personal information from users.”

The app does have links that direct users to its Web site, if they choose to click on them, where they can submit info that the PIC’s terms of service allow it to share. For example, Whisenant said that the PIC can choose to share the contact information of those who volunteered for an event on Saturday, the National Day of Service, with the groups they help. Users can access these volunteer pages and give their personal information to the PIC through Web links in the app; those pages fall under the terms of use for the Web site.

But simply downloading and using the app without signing up for alerts or updates, the group said, will not automatically collect any information.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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