The GOP CD

Following up on yesterday’s questions I had about the marriage-amendment CD being mailed out to voters by the Republican Party, I posed them to Mark Drake, the GOP Minnesota spokesman.

I wrote:

I really enjoyed the production work on the CD for the marriage amendment. It was first-rate stuff and as a Flash novice, made me a little bit envious. The copy that Tom Scheck gave me required an access code. Do all the CDs being mailed out come with an access code? If so, I’m curious as to why that is and wondering if the “votes” I’m asked to take during the presentation are reported back to the MN GOP? And, if so, are they matched to the access code and do you keep a record of what code is mailed to what person?

Mark was kind enough to respond promptly:

Thank you for the kind words regarding the high tech merits of the cd. Like any political survey done by the Party, it is our hope the cd will help us recruit more volunteers, provide valuable voter ID information and hopefully allow us to raise money so we can continue to send the cd out to more Minnesotans.

On Friday, the cd will be released to the public. The cd’s packaging will make clear that the cd is interactive in nature.

A follow-up e-mail from me:

So by interactive in nature, do you mean the results are being reported back to the GOP and, if so, are they identified by the access code?

And a response:

Yes- very similar process to if you got a free AOL cd at the grocery store.

So if you run the CD in your personal computer, by the end of it, the Minnesota GOP will not only know what you think on particular issues, but also who you are. I’m not sure how polling firms do this. Do they keep track of the individual answers by identity? Maybe so. Maybe not.

Let me think out loud about how this could play out. Depending on what data the GOP is gathering, you get home, you see the CD, you pop it in your computer. Now, the sponsor knows you played the thing. Do they know how long you played the thing? How many features you watched? When it comes time answer some questions (and I don’t think you’re required to answer them, but it doesn’t say that), you go ahead and click the answer. As far as I could tell, nothing tells you that the answers are about to be e-mailed or otherwise transmitted to the Minnesota GOP.

So you finish, and then the phone rings. “Hello, Mr/Mrs. Voters, it’s Joe and I notice you support gun control and the marriage amendment, would you like to donate some money to us?” That might startle the person who may have thought he/she was viewing the presentation in the privacy of the computer room.

It’ll be interesting to see how that data will be used and the extent to which it’s collected.

(Update 11:50 a.m.)

I played around with it some more to try to figure what information is being gathered. The first clue the GOP was tracking was the fact when it starts it says something like “Welcome, John Smith.” And if you’re not John Smith, you can “apply” for an activation code (see photo). The data you have to submit is: Name, spouse’s name, district, address, e-mail and phone. Only name, address, and phone are required.

I filled out this information using Tim Pawlenty’s address and it gave me a code to allow me to continue further.

The first section “our culture” features a presentation with Mary Kiffmeyer, and then asks “which of the following BEST describes your position on abortion.” The answers are “all abortions should be legal, abortions should be legal but only in the first 3 months, abortions should be illegal except in the case of rape, incest, or the life of the mother is threatened; and abortions should be illegal.

It then gives you another blurb of Kiffmeyer and then asks if you support the amendment on marriage. And then asks if you believe in the 2nd amendment. It does not say you can just hit SUBMIT and skip the answer. And it doesn’t say the results are being transmitted.

More Kiffmeyer, and then it asks how you usually vote on Election Day – always Republican, always Democrat, sometimes Republican, sometimes Democrat, and other.

Six issues are then presented — taxes, performance pay for teachers, designated motor vehicle sales tax to transportation, illegal immigration, eminent domain, and the marriage amendment…with a rating of 1 to 6.

Checked again to find a privacy notice. Nothing.

Anybody got a good decompiler?

(1:55 Updating) From an information standpoint, having a better handle on who is out there and who exactly supports your position makes perfect sense. You can target your focus better, you can more easily identify potential contributors, and you can create a good database on Election Day to make sure those folks are voting. Why waste your money blanketing folks who aren’t going to support you? My suggestion would be to tighten up the program a bit to give people the option not to send data. After telling them the program is, of course.

In the comments section, someone asked for screenshots of the questions. Here you go.

  • bsimon

    Interesting scoop. I should note that anyone concerned about the technology can unplug their network cable if they’re worried about Big Brother seeing their answers. Though I imagine few would know to do this beforehand.

  • e k
  • http://mncr.blogspot.com MN Campaign Report

    Is it possible to get some screenshots of the questionnaire itself, or the texts of the questions used?

  • ironranger

    I received a phone poll with the exact same questions less than 2 weeks ago!!! The pollster said the poll was conducted by rpm. I have been trying to find out who put it out…contacted my rep & a minn blog. I was very annoyed that the poll didn’t address the real issues that are important to most people I know.

  • http://www.piercingwit.com Pierce

    Mr. Collins, I just sent an email to what I’m guessing is your address. I’m a Flash developer and I may be able to tease some info out of the files. Let me know if I can help.

  • Ben

    My suggestion would be to use a “packet capturing” utility to look at the data sent from your computer while you are using the CD-ROM. If the transmission is SSL encoded, (i.e. encrypted), you will not be able to determine the exact data being sent but you’ll be able to see the destination. (e.g. http://www.gop-pollsters-r-us.com)

  • Electrolux

    Run the flash application under linux, if possible.

    Network interfaces are block devices, so you can set up a virtual device as eth0 to tee and redirect outgoing traffic to a file and to your real net connection at the same time. This way you can see everything this program sends without affecting the way that it runs.

    That said, I don’t understand the fuss. From the first screenshot, it seems obvious that it you are taking a survey which will collect your name and address.

    It’s like sending in a product registration card… it’s obvious that the information on it will end up in a database. If you don’t like this, don’t fill it out.

  • bjorn yulaevsen

    Well, as it’s coming from the GOP, it wouldn’t see the inside of my drive anyway.

  • Mike H.

    I’d like to see an ISO rip of the CD posted somewhere. I’d like to poke at it, as I’m sure other would as well. It wouldn’t take much more than a protocol analyzer (http://www.effetech.com has a great one called HTTPDetect with a free trial) and a flash decompiler, which someone already linked to.

  • Ben

    Can someone post a tcpdump or ethereal packet capture of what gets sent or provide the iso for us to analyze?

  • Tricky

    I think the republican party is trying to make things eazier for democrats like me to move in and fix this country…

  • http://www.gfx.com Dave

    Another stupid high-control move by republicans to control our lives. When will they learn?

  • http://albatross.org Albatross

    When it stops working for them?

  • Brad Eleven

    This looks to me like another example of overly eager, incompetent politicos. Even more than an ISO image of the CD, I’d like to know what the meetings on this project were like. Did anyone even mention the potential backlash? Or did they simply think that, since they were only sending the CD to “known Republicans”, there wouldn’t be a problem.

    I get on this list in Texas, because I voted in the 2000 GOP primary. There’s no formal party registration, just a law to prevent people from voting in both primaries. The records are public, so anyone can use the field in the voter registration database labelled “voted in __ primary” to define party affiliations.

    I’ll stay on this list of “identified Republicans”, because I’m voting in the GOP primary–against my current congressman: Tom DeLay.

    I don’t get to vote in the Democratic primary, but hey, his Democratic opponent is running unopposed.

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