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Barack Obama App Innovates While Mitt Romney App Collects Data

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The new apps released by the respective campaigns of President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney on Tuesday morning represent the next phase in the union of technology and politics as pioneered by Obama's 2008 campaign.

The app released by Romney's campaign, "Mitt's VP," focuses on the former Massachusetts governor's imminent vice presidential pick. Users who download the app are prompted to enter personal information: name, email, address, zip code and, optionally, their mobile phone number. An account on MittRomney.com is automatically created, and users are simply presented with a screen that says "Coming Soon" and promises that the app will inform users of Romney's VP pick "before the press and just about everyone else (except maybe Ann)."

When Romney selects his running mate, those who have downloaded the app and entered their personal information will receive a push alert -- a notification that appears prominently on their iPhone or Android device -- sharing Romney's pick.

It's an app that currently has a narrow functionality, and none at all after Romney makes his pick. The app was created to emulate the Obama campaign's successful mobile phone number and email harvesting scheme that surrounded his selection of Joe Biden as his running mate in August 2008. Supporters then were prompted to enter their personal information, and in return received a text sharing the news (though the media broke the news before the texts went out).

Romney's new app allows the campaign to collect personal information entirely within the app, as well as crucial location data that will allow the campaign to target subsequent email messages to swing state supporters. It's the Romney campaign's second app, with a very different focus than the first, "With Mitt." That app is an engagement tool (that was famously released with a spelling error) that allowed users to overlay campaign slogans on their photos.

Romney's piecemeal mobile app strategy is a contrast to Obama's. The new app released by the president's campaign is multifaceted and succeeds a more limited placeholder app that has been available for months.

The new app, simply called "Obama" like the first, does not require an initial sign-up. What it does ask is permission to use a smartphone's GPS device. Using that location data, the app shares how Obama's policies affect the user's area. It also shares information about voting in said area and displays a list of local events.

One notable feature of the app is its integration with the Obama campaign's new web-based grassroots organizing tool, Dashboard. Dashboard allows supporters to make calls, canvass their neighbors and attend local organizing events, among other things.

The new app is a step forward from 2008, when the Obama campaign released an iPhone app just weeks after Apple's App Store opened. That app was powerful at the time, going through a user's phone book and looking at area codes to prioritize which friends to call (those located in swing states were at the top of the list).

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