Ted Cruz's App Rewards Users for Turning Over Their Friends' Contact Info

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Ted Cruz’s campaign has gamified its app as a way to create dossiers on voters. Provided you have a stupid friend who has been lured by “Cruz’s Crew,” it might even have collected and analyzed your information.

“Cruz’s Crew” awards points to users who help them campaign. Volunteering gets you 50 points, and donating money nets you 100 points. The big ticket: Sharing your contact list is worth 250 points. So the most valuable thing you can do is give the campaign access to your buddies and their data.

Even if you say no the first time, the app will ask you for your friends’ information again.


So far, Cruz’s Crew users have racked up over 4 million points.

NPR talked to Chris Wilson, who runs the Cruz campaign’s research and analytics, about how it uses the app to find people to canvass after awarding people imaginary points for giving the campaign access to their contact list:

“While we don’t keep anything that they share, what it does allow us to do is identify within a person’s contact list, those voters that may be part of our core targeting list,” Wilson says.

The campaign is searching for information — names, address, phone numbers — that match up with possible Cruz voters. “We have scored the entire national voter file, in terms of their likelihood to support Ted Cruz,” Wilson says. “So if we identify that you have 10 friends in Iowa who are potential Cruz supporters, then we’ll ask you to reach out to those people.”


But while Wilson says the campaign doesn’t keep any data, the app’s privacy policy explicitly says that it can:

We may access, collect, and store personal information about other people that is available to us through your contact list and/or address book. The website and mobile app allows users to complete contact information for entries on their contact list/address book, match their information with information available from other sources, and identify issues of interest.


Cruz’s app is slickly designed, with a “Newsfeed” function that allows it to function as a social network. People post Cruz memes and updates, liking each others’ posts. The virtual badges people unlock with their points are similar to Reddit’s virtual participation awards, although there are some actual physical objects you can acquire. A Ted Cruz bumper sticker will set you back 10,000 points.

This app is slimy–and smart. By borrowing UI touches from Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, it’s easy to navigate and understand. By turning campaigning into a game and making information the most valuable play, the Cruz campaign figured out a disturbing and effective way to stockpile voter profiles.


Screenshots via Ted Cruz 2016