What I mean is, if I downloaded the app:

  • What information did the app ask of me?
  • What did the app want me to do?
  • What did I knowingly agree to, that the app will do?

I don't seem to find a lot of information about the app except that about 1 million people downloaded the app, and this gave the Obama campaign access to the data of almost 190 million people

Then according to this site

the campaign could deliver carefully targeted campaign messages disguised as messages from friends to millions of Facebook users

So did the people who downloaded the app know the campaign was going to do this?

I am trying to figure out if there was a difference between what the app made you believe it was going to do, and what it actually did.

  • 5
    Related: Is there a difference between how Cambridge Analytica and the Obama Campaign got Facebook users' data? – This question, however, seems technical rather than political.
    – chirlu
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 10:31
  • @ chirlu for his Related suggestion. I am sorry but the two questions are not at all related. The Trump campaign did not even have an app. I am asking what the function off the app was, this has nothing to do with anything about Trump or CA. I will grant you that it may be technical rather than political...
    – Alfa Bravo
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 10:43
  • 6
    @AlfaBravo You seem to be confusing his link of related (which they are related, because you would not ask this question without that one) to a duplicate closure request (which this is not a duplicate of). But I tend to agree that asking for specifics of how the Obama app worked is not a political question. This might be a better question for WebApps.SE, as they discuss how FB apps like this work.
    – Machavity
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 12:24
  • You are right, if the "related" tag is just to give more information and not the same as the "duplicate" tag then I got them mixed up. I apologize to chirlu then and thank him for connecting them. I want to mark an answer at the other question, but felt I needed more information before I could agree with the main answer, so I asked this question, which is maybe not the right place for it. Thanks for also telling me of a better place to have posted it...... not sure what I should do now actually...
    – Alfa Bravo
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 12:30
  • @AlfaBravo "not sure what I should do now actually" ... nothing. If the users feel this question is on topic, it will remain so and answered... if no, it'll be closed.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 16:02

1 Answer 1


What information did the app ask of me?

It asked if it was OK to use specific information from your facebook profile in support of the Obama campaign.

Betsy Hoover, the online organizing director for Barack Obama's 2012 presidential campaign, is reported as saying

"When they clicked on the app, a screen would pop up that would say what data they're authorizing the app was giving us access to and exactly how we were going to use that data ... We built with voter history and ... other data points that Democratic campaigns use to build models. But we matched the data of your friends to that model and then reflected it back to the person who had authorized the app and said, if you want to reach out to your friends about this election on Facebook, here are the ones that you should reach out to first. And that was it...

I don't know what that "pop up" looked like but here's an example based on a 2010 IBM tutorial that might give you an idea of how it might have looked

Facebook app authorisation

SampleApp is requesting permission to do the following

Access my basic information
Includes name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends, and any other information I've shared with everyone.

I don't know the granularity of permissions that the Facebook API made available to developers but it seems reasonable that "basic information" represents the least amount of permission an app might be able to request using the Facebook API.

I should emphasise that I don't know what permissions the Targeted Sharing app requested, there are other permissions it might have requested. None of them seem to me relevant to the description's I've read of what the targeted Sharing app needed.

The 2010 IBM tutorial says

By default, applications have access to the user's public data. To access private data, applications must first request the user's permissions, which are called extended permissions. Facebook defines a large number of permissions

(my emphasis)

What did the app want me to do?

Talk to, and send messages to, your friends encouraging them to vote in the election.

According to "Inside the Cave" by Engage Research:

  • OFA launched "targeted sharing" to Facebook friends who were voters in swing states
  • Like Quick Donate, integration with the rest of the technology stack was key. Users received an email requesting that they contact six specific friends, with their names and photos.
  • 600,000 people reached 5 million voters
  • 20% of those 5 million took some action, such as registering to vote

(my emphasis)

What did I knowingly agree to, that the app will do?

You knowingly agreed to send messages to your friends. For example by clicking a "SHARE NOW" button above a list of friends.

According to "Inside the Cave" by Engage Research, it looked like this:

Facebook app

Remind Friends to Vote

It's more important than ever that we SHOW UP & VOTE not just this year, but EVERY YEAR and in EVERY ELECTION, EVERY VOICE must be heard and EVERY VOTE must be counted

Here's an easy and important way to help president Obama win: make sure your friends in key states know when and where to vote with our polling place lookup tool.


{list of friends to share message with}

It was pretty evident to the Facebook users of the Obama campaign app exactly what was happening: the users themselves were using the app to explicitly send messages to their friends.

Readers of this answer may be interested to contrast this Facebook app with, for example, the "Personality test" Facebook app by a Cambridge University researcher. Users of the "personality test" app had no knowledge that Cambridge Analytica would later improperly obtain their data with the intention to target political messages at the users' friends in support of the Trump campaign. (Note, this intention was not carried out using this data as the Trump campaign team claimed the RNC had already obtained better data they could use instead for their purposes.)


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