A recent report from The Intercept reveals that President Donald Trump's campaign is deploying the services of Phunware, a Texas-based firm that specializes in collecting smartphone location data, which can be used to track and target voters for political purposes.
The Phunware website claims that it can obtain GPS location data and the Wi-Fi network used by a given individual. Combined with user data, such information can be used to infer a given user's age, gender and lifestyle preferences. According to the company, they deploy various services based on user location data, including identifying individuals at political rallies and protests as potential targets for advertisements — a technique called geofencing.
When The Intercept contacted Phunware, company spokesperson Brent Brightwell reportedly said they did not provide comment on "customer-specific data or information," per purported company policy.
"Please contact the Trump reelection campaign directly should you have any questions about their activities or efforts," to which The Intercept reported it did and received no response.
According to The Intercept, it was revealed in the deleted scenes from the documentary The Brink that Trump's former 2016 campaign manager Steve Bannon used geofencing services to target churchgoers during the midterm elections.Bannon worked with the conservative group CatholicVote to gather the location data of people who recently attended Roman Catholic churches in Dubuque, Iowa, and send them political ads, The Verge reported.
"If your phone's ever been in a Catholic church, it's amazing, they got this data," Bannon said. "Literally, they can tell who's been in a Catholic church and how frequently. And they got it triaged."
According to Bannon, the data was purchased off of "phone companies" and "data guys."
As The Inquisitr previously reported, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie claims that Bannon also targeted "incels" during Trump's 2016 election campaign, using information gathered from Facebook users and public voter records.
Geofencing efforts are not new. A firm called Copley Advertising was previously hired by anti-abortion groups to target women who recently visited Planned Parenthood clinics. The company was sued by the state of Massachusetts, which prohibits "unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce," according to MediaPost. The state ultimately settled with Copley Advertising in 2017, which was reportedly the first instance of a consumer protection law preventing a company from using GPS-based ad targeting.
"But it may not be the last -- especially considering that Copley allegedly operates in other states that have their own versions of consumer protection laws," MediaPost reported.