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這家想幫特朗普連任的科技公司,如今自身難保

這家想幫特朗普連任的科技公司,如今自身難保

Garance Burke,美聯社 2020年11月21日
通過手機,就能把用戶打造成特朗普的擁護者

2020年唐納德·特朗普競選連任相關服務由一款手機應用提供,該應用可協助監控數百萬支持者的動向,還能輕松關聯社交網絡。

雖然競選活動逐漸塵埃落定,數據策略仍非常活躍,這款應用收集的數據依然可以用在很多其他方面,例如為特朗普未來的政治活動籌錢、煽動粉絲,甚至為新成立媒體帝國建立受眾群等。

通過該應用,特朗普團隊能直接與280萬下載用戶交流,這比大選期間其他應用觸及人群都多。如果獲得用戶允許,還能聯系到通訊錄里的其他人。

隱私政策和用戶界面顯示,安裝后用戶在應用里和現實世界中的行為都會受到追蹤。應用內能推送頭條新聞,同步群發信息,出售競選周邊,籌集資金,還會記錄總統集會的出席率。

然而,根據對前雇員的采訪以及財務文件和法庭文件的內容,這家為特朗普競選開發應用的企業已陷入財務困境,還在關鍵時刻得到了特朗普政府和競選團隊的支持。

總部位于奧斯汀的Phunware股價已跌至1美元以下,最近同意向Uber支付450萬美元和解欺詐廣告索賠。今年早些時候,公司還差點被納斯達克摘牌。今年4月,該公司在開發特朗普競選應用時,曾依據《冠狀病毒援助、救濟和經濟安全法案》獲得了290萬美元貸款。

Phunware作為創業公司一直在苦苦掙扎,曾幫醫院和位于曼哈頓的占星家開發應用。不過讓競選監督機構和前員工都感到驚訝的是,Phunware在特朗普競選爭取連任的過程中居然發揮了巨大作用。公司持續地收集數據并籌款,在此過程中,也為自身的財務狀況爭取到一線生機。

甚至在各大媒體宣稱特朗普的民主黨對手喬·拜登當選后,該應用還在不斷推出支持特朗普的內容。

“我們都知道為什么喬·拜登急著冒充贏家,還有拜登的媒體盟友為何如此努力地提供幫助。因為他們不希望真相曝光,”本月早些時候特朗普發布的一份聲明中寫道。“美國人民的選票準確清點之前,我不會停止戰斗。”

本周二,該應用推出了新內容,為喬治亞州清點選票的訴訟辯護。

上周,該應用呼吁人們向特朗普新成立的“選舉捍衛基金”捐款,將籌集到的大部分資金捐給特朗普組建名為“拯救美國”的新政治行動委員會。政治行動委員會開支方面幾乎沒有限制,可承擔奢侈的個人開支或向其他候選人提供資金。

為無黨派競選法律中心工作的聯邦選舉委員會前任檢察官阿達夫·諾蒂表示,雖然最近該應用活動有所減弱,但它已經收集了支持者的豐富數據,其中包括從聯系人到IP地址再到位置數據等,均可為今后服務。

他補充說,國會和聯邦選舉委員會還尚未就管理競選過程中對個人數據如何使用制定規則,也沒有限制競選活動可向哪些公司出售名單。

諾蒂說:“我認為接下來他會轉移競選中積累的資產,數據肯定能買,而且競選團隊也愿意賣,問題主要是多少錢。”

Phunware拒絕回答有關該應用、公司財務狀況、內部文化以及與大選相關的問題。

“不管美國什么級別的選舉,都與Phunware絕對無關……利用移動軟件或移動企業云平臺的客戶創建或使用的內容也與公司無關,”首席執行官艾倫·奈托夫斯基在一封電子郵件中說。

至于未來會不會使用Phunware應用等數字平臺收集的眾多支持者數據,負責特朗普競選的高層官員拒絕回答。

一位匿名官員表示:“相關數據歸競選活動所有,限制了從他們的服務器上收集內容,”

近年來Phunware財務方面遭遇挑戰,經歷了裁員、客戶和投資人流失等問題。其中10人同意接受美聯社采訪,其中部分人選擇匿名,因為簽署了保密協議或擔心被報復。

法院記錄顯示,2017年Phunware曾起訴客戶網約車平臺Uber,指控該公司未支付賬單。

但Uber也提起訴訟,指控Phunware存在諸多欺詐行為,包括允許Uber廣告在色情網站上出現。Phunware前員則工表示,公司開始尋找收入多樣化的新途徑。

繼續探究,就會發現前總統喬治·W·布什顧問兼共和黨策略師卡爾·羅夫的身影。

進入白宮很久以前,羅夫在德克薩斯政界就以其直郵專家的身份聞名。他曾表示,直郵政治廣告之所以有效,是因為基本上“不受新聞報道影響”,或者公眾幾乎看不見。

羅夫接受美聯社采訪時表示,經過一位跟他妻子關系不錯的游說者牽線,認識了Phunware高管,游說者聲稱該公司曾為運動隊和《財富》美國100強公司開發應用,公司整合了地理圍欄技術,可通過手機跟蹤人們的活動。

Phunware前員工和游說者手下的工作人員給羅夫做了介紹,展示該公司如何利用手機數據發送定制的政治廣告,而且這種廣告很難被追蹤。

“他非常震驚。好像在說‘這數據極其強大,’”一位前員工回憶說。

羅夫說,后來他幫Phunware跟特朗普2016年大選數字總監布拉德·帕斯卡爾搭上了關系。

“我認為應用里的數據能影響到政治,所以后來一次談話中,我向布拉德·帕斯卡爾提了一句,”羅夫說,“他說‘聽起來挺有趣’,也就這樣,他從來沒告訴我他找了那家公司。”

奈托夫斯基在一封電子郵件中表示,與特朗普競選建立了聯系。

“一位硅谷首席執行官進行1對1介紹后,我代表Phunware直接見了特朗普競選團隊,硅谷首席執行官希望我們考慮共同起草征求建議書,建議書中的最終考慮對象也包括Salesforce,”奈托夫斯基說。

劍橋分析公司所引發的爭議讓帕斯卡爾很震驚。劍橋分析公司被指不當使用Facebook的數據預測2016年大選中的選民行為。同時,帕斯卡爾也意識到社交媒體平臺的偏見,所以他希望繞過科技巨頭,重新調整連任活動的方向,直接與支持者建立聯系。

前合作者說,2016年特朗普獲勝后,帕斯卡爾與顧問和前劍橋分析數據科學家合作建立了數據倉庫,通過專門的廣告精確瞄準受眾。

與此同時,Phunware開始向競選活動推銷自家應用,稱可通過地理圍欄技術接觸到有可能投票的選民,主要根據“活動參與、投票中心、體育賽事——甚至對手的競選集會”等興趣領域虛擬劃分人群,一篇博客文章稱。

兩位前員工說,奈托夫斯基告訴工程師,要在每個應用中嵌入隱形跟蹤軟件來跟蹤用戶行為,以加強Phunware對競選的作用。

一位前員工說:“他們說,要在每個應用里加入跟蹤功能收集一切信息,而政治傾向就是原因之一。即使用戶表示不想要,也會加進去。”

奈托夫斯基拒絕對該指控發表評論。一位前經理表示,曾努力讓軟件不受用戶不喜歡的應用干擾。

另一位前經理回憶說,月度會議上,奈托夫斯基會向員工介紹另一家公司來收購或吸引到天使投資者的前景。

共和黨全國委員會又聘請了一家私營公司,收集選民數據進行右傾競選活動,稱之為數據信托,帕斯卡爾也加入了該公司董事會。一直以來,他的團隊不斷積累手機號碼,向特朗普的支持者提供競選周邊交換數據。

“這就是唐納德·特朗普能連任四年的原因,”2018年帕斯卡爾在支持德克薩斯州參議員特德·克魯茲連任的集會上舉起手中的iPhone說。“現在手機就是我們跟你們連接的方式。我們用手機把你們打造成特朗普的大軍。”

到了2019年初Phunware上市后,前同事說奈托夫斯基開始談論為討好特朗普陣營做的努力。美國證券交易委員會的文件顯示,今年4月,15%的員工因“結構調整和成本降低”被裁員。

同年7月,奈托夫斯基在納斯達克成功敲鐘。但當時公司收入下降,大客戶紛紛威脅稱要離開。

紐約的占星家蘇珊·米勒表示要求更新功能,卻沒人理她。米勒的占星應用曾是Phunware最成功的產品之一。

“你有沒有體驗過派對上跟某個人說話,但那人總是盯著門卻不看你,因為他想和別人說話?就是那種感覺。”米勒說,“他們對我,就像對待一只舊鞋一樣。”

一位投資者也抱怨說奈托夫斯基不接電話。

斯科特·沃克說:“這家伙很陰暗。他想籌錢的時候就是摯友,等到有問題想問他,人都找不到。”他說,Phunware股票下跌害他虧損超過20萬美元。

8月,該公司有了一些新消息,即與“美國制造媒體咨詢公司”合作,“也被稱為‘特朗普-彭斯2020競選’和‘讓美國強大’競選活動,”奈托夫斯基在一次財報電話會議上說。

根據兩個月后提交給聯邦通信委員會的一份文件,該公司董事包括競選運營總監肖恩·多爾曼和競選顧問亞歷克斯·坎農。

之后Phunware披露了與特朗普競選應用更多的工作細節,其中包括基于地理位置的工具和其他功能,主要幫助競選爭取新用戶。此外還有游戲化的忠誠系統,支持者可攢積分兌換有簽名的“讓美國再次偉大”帽子,或者與特朗普合影。

文件顯示,2019年9月福克斯網絡集團與公司停止合作后,剩余員工里有18%被解雇,Phunware銷售額也少了很大一塊。

一名前雇員說,經理曾詢問Phunware在紐波特海灘辦公室的工程師是否愿意開發特朗普應用,一些反對的工程師選擇辭職。

然后在今年4月,由于新冠肺炎病例激增,居家隔離令也中斷了不少業務,Phunware從美國小企業管理局的“薪水保護計劃”獲得了290萬美元的貸款。這是美國國會創建的救濟基金,主要為了幫助小企業維持員工就業挺過疫情。

Phunware首席運營官蘭德爾·克勞德否認公司靠政治偏向獲得貸款。

“我們并未得到特朗普競選團隊的幫助,其實我真希望他們能來幫忙,能在高層有朋友多棒。但不管怎樣,這對我們的業務不會產生任何影響,”克勞德在一次錄音采訪中表示。

政府要求收到超過200萬美元的上市公司退還資金之后,Phunware選擇了拒絕。

之后一個月,納斯達克通知Phunware可能因財務問題被摘牌。要想繼續上市就要符合一定標準,以向投資者證明,自首次公開募股以來,一直值得信賴。

美國證券交易委員會的文件顯示,到今年7月“美國制造媒體咨詢公司”相關業務占到Phunware銷售額三分之一,今年上半年就向Phunware支付了160多萬美元。

競選法律中心向聯邦選舉委員會提出申訴,指控特朗普競選團隊以及旗下主要的政治行動委員會通過“美國制造媒體咨詢公司”,隱瞞了在Phunware和其他分包商上的開支。

疫情期間,很多支持者只能留在家里,特朗普的競選團隊利用該應用遠程獲取新用戶,帕斯卡爾則大肆宣揚該應用如何經過調整支持虛擬活動。

據在線數據提供商Apptopia稱,今年7月近86萬人下載了這款特朗普競選應用。就在同一個月,拜登的競選團隊放棄了第一個應用Team Joe,呼吁支持者下載新應用Vote Joe(只有11075人下載了)。

截至11月中旬,已有280萬人下載了特朗普應用,Apptopia首席執行官埃利蘭·薩皮爾估計,該應用可為競選活動提供數億電話號碼,其中包括通訊錄里存了號碼,但從未同意接受聯系的人。

不過,據卡內基梅隆大學一位研究員估計,由于電話號碼有重復,總人數接近2700萬。

當時,該應用已為最后幾個月的協調工作打下基礎,競選團隊官員能模擬隔離條件下支持者的行為,激勵人們參與集會。

共和黨顧問埃里克·威爾遜說:“為什么該應用價值巨大?因為人們喜歡跟競選活動中認識的朋友分享信息,獲取新聞和最新消息,不僅可以用來吸取資源,也為競選活動擴大了人脈,促進思想交流。”

然而,Phunware的財務困境并未緩解。

在美國證券交易委員會周四的一份文件中,Phunware突然停止披露關鍵客戶的名字。但是,通過將會計數據與過去文件比對,美聯社發現美國制造媒體咨詢公司是Phunware唯一的大客戶,今年前9個月共支付了240萬美元,占其收入近三分之一。兩位前雇員表示情況屬實。公司還披露了巨額債務,并“嚴重懷疑持續經營能力”。

上周,在與分析師交流的財報電話會上,公司只字未提與特朗普競選團隊合作事宜,主要談的是未來的增長潛力。盡管公司經營存在不確定性,但一些分析師表示,由于手機使用量增長,依然看好公司長期前景。

上個月,該公司宣布完成與霍尼韋爾合作的兩份合同后,股價小幅上漲。霍尼韋爾在Twitter上回擊稱,已要求Phunware撤銷發布,宣稱集團“與Phunware沒有持續關系,未來也不打算合作”。

另一家公司——惠普,對美聯社表示,Phunware曾宣布兩家公司合作,然而根本不存在。奈托夫斯基對兩起事件均不予置評。

惠普發言人亞當·鮑爾表示:“我們從未與Phunware合作,與該公司沒有任何正式合作關系。 我們并未授權該公司發布新聞稿,已要求撤下。”(財富中文網)

譯者:夏林

編輯:徐曉彤

2020年唐納德·特朗普競選連任相關服務由一款手機應用提供,該應用可協助監控數百萬支持者的動向,還能輕松關聯社交網絡。

雖然競選活動逐漸塵埃落定,數據策略仍非常活躍,這款應用收集的數據依然可以用在很多其他方面,例如為特朗普未來的政治活動籌錢、煽動粉絲,甚至為新成立媒體帝國建立受眾群等。

通過該應用,特朗普團隊能直接與280萬下載用戶交流,這比大選期間其他應用觸及人群都多。如果獲得用戶允許,還能聯系到通訊錄里的其他人。

隱私政策和用戶界面顯示,安裝后用戶在應用里和現實世界中的行為都會受到追蹤。應用內能推送頭條新聞,同步群發信息,出售競選周邊,籌集資金,還會記錄總統集會的出席率。

然而,根據對前雇員的采訪以及財務文件和法庭文件的內容,這家為特朗普競選開發應用的企業已陷入財務困境,還在關鍵時刻得到了特朗普政府和競選團隊的支持。

總部位于奧斯汀的Phunware股價已跌至1美元以下,最近同意向Uber支付450萬美元和解欺詐廣告索賠。今年早些時候,公司還差點被納斯達克摘牌。今年4月,該公司在開發特朗普競選應用時,曾依據《冠狀病毒援助、救濟和經濟安全法案》獲得了290萬美元貸款。

Phunware作為創業公司一直在苦苦掙扎,曾幫醫院和位于曼哈頓的占星家開發應用。不過讓競選監督機構和前員工都感到驚訝的是,Phunware在特朗普競選爭取連任的過程中居然發揮了巨大作用。公司持續地收集數據并籌款,在此過程中,也為自身的財務狀況爭取到一線生機。

甚至在各大媒體宣稱特朗普的民主黨對手喬·拜登當選后,該應用還在不斷推出支持特朗普的內容。

“我們都知道為什么喬·拜登急著冒充贏家,還有拜登的媒體盟友為何如此努力地提供幫助。因為他們不希望真相曝光,”本月早些時候特朗普發布的一份聲明中寫道。“美國人民的選票準確清點之前,我不會停止戰斗。”

本周二,該應用推出了新內容,為喬治亞州清點選票的訴訟辯護。

上周,該應用呼吁人們向特朗普新成立的“選舉捍衛基金”捐款,將籌集到的大部分資金捐給特朗普組建名為“拯救美國”的新政治行動委員會。政治行動委員會開支方面幾乎沒有限制,可承擔奢侈的個人開支或向其他候選人提供資金。

為無黨派競選法律中心工作的聯邦選舉委員會前任檢察官阿達夫·諾蒂表示,雖然最近該應用活動有所減弱,但它已經收集了支持者的豐富數據,其中包括從聯系人到IP地址再到位置數據等,均可為今后服務。

他補充說,國會和聯邦選舉委員會還尚未就管理競選過程中對個人數據如何使用制定規則,也沒有限制競選活動可向哪些公司出售名單。

諾蒂說:“我認為接下來他會轉移競選中積累的資產,數據肯定能買,而且競選團隊也愿意賣,問題主要是多少錢。”

Phunware拒絕回答有關該應用、公司財務狀況、內部文化以及與大選相關的問題。

“不管美國什么級別的選舉,都與Phunware絕對無關……利用移動軟件或移動企業云平臺的客戶創建或使用的內容也與公司無關,”首席執行官艾倫·奈托夫斯基在一封電子郵件中說。

至于未來會不會使用Phunware應用等數字平臺收集的眾多支持者數據,負責特朗普競選的高層官員拒絕回答。

一位匿名官員表示:“相關數據歸競選活動所有,限制了從他們的服務器上收集內容,”

近年來Phunware財務方面遭遇挑戰,經歷了裁員、客戶和投資人流失等問題。其中10人同意接受美聯社采訪,其中部分人選擇匿名,因為簽署了保密協議或擔心被報復。

法院記錄顯示,2017年Phunware曾起訴客戶網約車平臺Uber,指控該公司未支付賬單。

但Uber也提起訴訟,指控Phunware存在諸多欺詐行為,包括允許Uber廣告在色情網站上出現。Phunware前員則工表示,公司開始尋找收入多樣化的新途徑。

繼續探究,就會發現前總統喬治·W·布什顧問兼共和黨策略師卡爾·羅夫的身影。

進入白宮很久以前,羅夫在德克薩斯政界就以其直郵專家的身份聞名。他曾表示,直郵政治廣告之所以有效,是因為基本上“不受新聞報道影響”,或者公眾幾乎看不見。

羅夫接受美聯社采訪時表示,經過一位跟他妻子關系不錯的游說者牽線,認識了Phunware高管,游說者聲稱該公司曾為運動隊和《財富》美國100強公司開發應用,公司整合了地理圍欄技術,可通過手機跟蹤人們的活動。

Phunware前員工和游說者手下的工作人員給羅夫做了介紹,展示該公司如何利用手機數據發送定制的政治廣告,而且這種廣告很難被追蹤。

“他非常震驚。好像在說‘這數據極其強大,’”一位前員工回憶說。

羅夫說,后來他幫Phunware跟特朗普2016年大選數字總監布拉德·帕斯卡爾搭上了關系。

“我認為應用里的數據能影響到政治,所以后來一次談話中,我向布拉德·帕斯卡爾提了一句,”羅夫說,“他說‘聽起來挺有趣’,也就這樣,他從來沒告訴我他找了那家公司。”

奈托夫斯基在一封電子郵件中表示,與特朗普競選建立了聯系。

“一位硅谷首席執行官進行1對1介紹后,我代表Phunware直接見了特朗普競選團隊,硅谷首席執行官希望我們考慮共同起草征求建議書,建議書中的最終考慮對象也包括Salesforce,”奈托夫斯基說。

劍橋分析公司所引發的爭議讓帕斯卡爾很震驚。劍橋分析公司被指不當使用Facebook的數據預測2016年大選中的選民行為。同時,帕斯卡爾也意識到社交媒體平臺的偏見,所以他希望繞過科技巨頭,重新調整連任活動的方向,直接與支持者建立聯系。

前合作者說,2016年特朗普獲勝后,帕斯卡爾與顧問和前劍橋分析數據科學家合作建立了數據倉庫,通過專門的廣告精確瞄準受眾。

與此同時,Phunware開始向競選活動推銷自家應用,稱可通過地理圍欄技術接觸到有可能投票的選民,主要根據“活動參與、投票中心、體育賽事——甚至對手的競選集會”等興趣領域虛擬劃分人群,一篇博客文章稱。

兩位前員工說,奈托夫斯基告訴工程師,要在每個應用中嵌入隱形跟蹤軟件來跟蹤用戶行為,以加強Phunware對競選的作用。

一位前員工說:“他們說,要在每個應用里加入跟蹤功能收集一切信息,而政治傾向就是原因之一。即使用戶表示不想要,也會加進去。”

奈托夫斯基拒絕對該指控發表評論。一位前經理表示,曾努力讓軟件不受用戶不喜歡的應用干擾。

另一位前經理回憶說,月度會議上,奈托夫斯基會向員工介紹另一家公司來收購或吸引到天使投資者的前景。

共和黨全國委員會又聘請了一家私營公司,收集選民數據進行右傾競選活動,稱之為數據信托,帕斯卡爾也加入了該公司董事會。一直以來,他的團隊不斷積累手機號碼,向特朗普的支持者提供競選周邊交換數據。

“這就是唐納德·特朗普能連任四年的原因,”2018年帕斯卡爾在支持德克薩斯州參議員特德·克魯茲連任的集會上舉起手中的iPhone說。“現在手機就是我們跟你們連接的方式。我們用手機把你們打造成特朗普的大軍。”

到了2019年初Phunware上市后,前同事說奈托夫斯基開始談論為討好特朗普陣營做的努力。美國證券交易委員會的文件顯示,今年4月,15%的員工因“結構調整和成本降低”被裁員。

同年7月,奈托夫斯基在納斯達克成功敲鐘。但當時公司收入下降,大客戶紛紛威脅稱要離開。

紐約的占星家蘇珊·米勒表示要求更新功能,卻沒人理她。米勒的占星應用曾是Phunware最成功的產品之一。

“你有沒有體驗過派對上跟某個人說話,但那人總是盯著門卻不看你,因為他想和別人說話?就是那種感覺。”米勒說,“他們對我,就像對待一只舊鞋一樣。”

一位投資者也抱怨說奈托夫斯基不接電話。

斯科特·沃克說:“這家伙很陰暗。他想籌錢的時候就是摯友,等到有問題想問他,人都找不到。”他說,Phunware股票下跌害他虧損超過20萬美元。

8月,該公司有了一些新消息,即與“美國制造媒體咨詢公司”合作,“也被稱為‘特朗普-彭斯2020競選’和‘讓美國強大’競選活動,”奈托夫斯基在一次財報電話會議上說。

根據兩個月后提交給聯邦通信委員會的一份文件,該公司董事包括競選運營總監肖恩·多爾曼和競選顧問亞歷克斯·坎農。

之后Phunware披露了與特朗普競選應用更多的工作細節,其中包括基于地理位置的工具和其他功能,主要幫助競選爭取新用戶。此外還有游戲化的忠誠系統,支持者可攢積分兌換有簽名的“讓美國再次偉大”帽子,或者與特朗普合影。

文件顯示,2019年9月福克斯網絡集團與公司停止合作后,剩余員工里有18%被解雇,Phunware銷售額也少了很大一塊。

一名前雇員說,經理曾詢問Phunware在紐波特海灘辦公室的工程師是否愿意開發特朗普應用,一些反對的工程師選擇辭職。

然后在今年4月,由于新冠肺炎病例激增,居家隔離令也中斷了不少業務,Phunware從美國小企業管理局的“薪水保護計劃”獲得了290萬美元的貸款。這是美國國會創建的救濟基金,主要為了幫助小企業維持員工就業挺過疫情。

Phunware首席運營官蘭德爾·克勞德否認公司靠政治偏向獲得貸款。

“我們并未得到特朗普競選團隊的幫助,其實我真希望他們能來幫忙,能在高層有朋友多棒。但不管怎樣,這對我們的業務不會產生任何影響,”克勞德在一次錄音采訪中表示。

政府要求收到超過200萬美元的上市公司退還資金之后,Phunware選擇了拒絕。

之后一個月,納斯達克通知Phunware可能因財務問題被摘牌。要想繼續上市就要符合一定標準,以向投資者證明,自首次公開募股以來,一直值得信賴。

美國證券交易委員會的文件顯示,到今年7月“美國制造媒體咨詢公司”相關業務占到Phunware銷售額三分之一,今年上半年就向Phunware支付了160多萬美元。

競選法律中心向聯邦選舉委員會提出申訴,指控特朗普競選團隊以及旗下主要的政治行動委員會通過“美國制造媒體咨詢公司”,隱瞞了在Phunware和其他分包商上的開支。

疫情期間,很多支持者只能留在家里,特朗普的競選團隊利用該應用遠程獲取新用戶,帕斯卡爾則大肆宣揚該應用如何經過調整支持虛擬活動。

據在線數據提供商Apptopia稱,今年7月近86萬人下載了這款特朗普競選應用。就在同一個月,拜登的競選團隊放棄了第一個應用Team Joe,呼吁支持者下載新應用Vote Joe(只有11075人下載了)。

截至11月中旬,已有280萬人下載了特朗普應用,Apptopia首席執行官埃利蘭·薩皮爾估計,該應用可為競選活動提供數億電話號碼,其中包括通訊錄里存了號碼,但從未同意接受聯系的人。

不過,據卡內基梅隆大學一位研究員估計,由于電話號碼有重復,總人數接近2700萬。

當時,該應用已為最后幾個月的協調工作打下基礎,競選團隊官員能模擬隔離條件下支持者的行為,激勵人們參與集會。

共和黨顧問埃里克·威爾遜說:“為什么該應用價值巨大?因為人們喜歡跟競選活動中認識的朋友分享信息,獲取新聞和最新消息,不僅可以用來吸取資源,也為競選活動擴大了人脈,促進思想交流。”

然而,Phunware的財務困境并未緩解。

在美國證券交易委員會周四的一份文件中,Phunware突然停止披露關鍵客戶的名字。但是,通過將會計數據與過去文件比對,美聯社發現美國制造媒體咨詢公司是Phunware唯一的大客戶,今年前9個月共支付了240萬美元,占其收入近三分之一。兩位前雇員表示情況屬實。公司還披露了巨額債務,并“嚴重懷疑持續經營能力”。

上周,在與分析師交流的財報電話會上,公司只字未提與特朗普競選團隊合作事宜,主要談的是未來的增長潛力。盡管公司經營存在不確定性,但一些分析師表示,由于手機使用量增長,依然看好公司長期前景。

上個月,該公司宣布完成與霍尼韋爾合作的兩份合同后,股價小幅上漲。霍尼韋爾在Twitter上回擊稱,已要求Phunware撤銷發布,宣稱集團“與Phunware沒有持續關系,未來也不打算合作”。

另一家公司——惠普,對美聯社表示,Phunware曾宣布兩家公司合作,然而根本不存在。奈托夫斯基對兩起事件均不予置評。

惠普發言人亞當·鮑爾表示:“我們從未與Phunware合作,與該公司沒有任何正式合作關系。 我們并未授權該公司發布新聞稿,已要求撤下。”(財富中文網)

譯者:夏林

編輯:徐曉彤

President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign was powered by a cellphone app that allowed staff to monitor the movements of his millions of supporters, and offered intimate access to their social networks.

While the campaign may be winding down, the data strategy is very much alive, and the digital details the app collected can be put to multiple other uses — to fundraise for the president’s future political ventures, stoke Trump’s base, or even build an audience for a new media empire.

The app lets Trump’s team communicate directly with the 2.8 million people who downloaded it — more than any other app in a U.S. presidential campaign — and if they gave permission, with their entire contact list as well.

Once installed, it can track their behavior on the app and in the physical world, push out headlines, sync with mass texting operations, sell MAGA merchandise, fundraise and log attendance at the president’s rallies, according to the app’s privacy policy and user interface.

Yet the enterprise software company that built a tool to propel Trump’s mass movement is in financial distress and has been sustained at key points by the administration and the president’s campaign, according to interviews with former employees, financial filings and court documents.

Austin-based Phunware, whose stock is trading for pennies, recently agreed to pay Uber $4.5 million as part of a settlement over claims of fraudulent advertising and earlier this year risked being delisted from the Nasdaq. In April, the company got a $2.9 million loan under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act as it was building the Trump campaign app.

Campaign watchdogs and former employees alike marvel at how a struggling startup known more for building apps for hospitals and a Manhattan-based astrologer became a juggernaut in Trump’s reelection bid, facilitating an ongoing data and fundraising effort that threw the company a financial lifeline.

Even after major media outlets called the election for his Democratic opponent Joe Biden, the app kept pushing out content supporting Trump’s bid.

“We all know why Joe Biden is rushing to falsely pose as the winner, and why his media allies are trying so hard to help him: they don’t want the truth to be exposed,” read a statement attributed to Trump posted earlier this month. “I will not rest until the American People have the honest vote count they deserve.”

On Tuesday, the app pushed out fresh content defending the campaign’s vote-counting litigation in Georgia.

Last week, the app posted a fundraising appeal asking for donations to Trump’s newly formed Election Defense Fund, which will send most of the money raised to a new political action committee Trump formed called Save America. That PAC has few spending restrictions and could pay for lavish personal expenses or give money to other candidates.

While activity on the app has slowed recently, the enriched data it gathered on the president’s supporters — which can include everything from their contacts to their IP address to their location data — can serve many purposes going forward, said Adav Noti, a former Federal Election Commission attorney who works for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.

Congress and the FEC have not set rules governing how campaigns can use people’s personal data and or limits on the number of entities to whom the campaign can sell its list, he added.

“I’m assuming that what he is going to do is transfer the assets of the campaign,” Noti said. “You can definitely buy the data and the campaign can sell it to you, the trickier question is how much do you have to pay for it.”

Phunware declined to respond to questions about the app, the company’s financial status, its internal culture and its relationship to the campaign.

“Phunware has absolutely no role in the constitutional processes tied to US elections at any level ... and also has no role in the content created or used by our customers specific to our mobile software or enterprise cloud platform for mobile,” CEO Alan Knitowski said in an email.

A senior Trump campaign official declined to answer questions about possible future uses for the rich supporter data the campaign collected via digital platforms, including the Phunware app.

“The data is owned by the campaign and limited whatever hit their servers,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss campaign specifics.

As Phunware has hit challenging financial times in recent years, it has shed employees, clients and investors, 10 of whom agreed to speak with The Associated Press, some on condition of anonymity because they signed non-disclosure agreements or feared retaliation.

Phunware sued its client Uber in 2017, accusing the ride-sharing company of failing to pay its invoices, according to court records.

But after Uber filed suit against Phunware, alleging the software company committed fraud by among other things, allowing ads for the ride-sharing app to show up on porn sites, former employees said the startup looked for new ways to diversify its revenue stream.

Into the picture stepped Karl Rove, former advisor and Republican strategist for President George W. Bush.

Long before reaching the White House, Rove made his name in Texas politics as a specialist in direct mail, a form of political advertising he once said was effective because it was largely “immune from press coverage,” or near invisible to the public.

In an interview with the AP, Rove said a lobbyist who was friendly with his wife introduced him to Phunware executives, who told him the company had built apps for sports teams and Fortune 100 companies that integrated geofencing technology, which can track people’s movements through their cellphones.

Ex-Phunware employees and the lobbyist’s staff gave Rove a presentation, showing off how the company could use cellphone data to send out customized political ads that also were hard to trace.

“His mind was blown. He was like ‘this is extremely powerful data,’” a former employee recalled.

Rove said he brokered a relationship for Phunware with Trump’s 2016 campaign digital director Brad Parscale.

“I thought it had lots of implications for politics so in a subsequent conversation I mentioned it to Brad Parscale,” Rove said. “He said ‘interesting’ and that was it, he never told me he had hired them.”

Knitowski said in an email that he built the relationship with the Trump campaign.

“Phunware met the Trump Campaign through me directly after a 1:1 introduction from a Silicon Valley CEO who requested our consideration and participation in an RFP that also had Salesforce as a finalist,” Knitowski said.

Stung by the Cambridge Analytica controversy -- the company was accused of using data improperly obtained from Facebook to predict voter behavior in the 2016 election -- and perceived bias from social media platforms, Parscale wanted to bypass Big Tech and reorient the reelection campaign to connect directly with supporters.

After Trump’s 2016 victory, Parscale worked with consultants and an ex-Cambridge Analytica data scientist to build out a data storehouse that could better microtarget audiences with specialized ads, former collaborators said.

Phunware, meanwhile, started marketing its tools to campaigns, saying it could reach likely voters through geofencing, by drawing virtual boundaries around areas of interest “such as event appearances, polling centers, sporting events – even an opponent’s campaign rally,” a blog post said.

Two former employees said Knitowski told engineers to embed invisible tracking software to follow users’ behavior inside each app they built to boost Phunware’s offerings to campaigns.

“We were told they needed to be in every app to collect information for whatever we did, and the political vertical was one of those reasons,” an ex-employee said. “It would still go in even if the customer said they didn’t want it.”

Knitowski declined to comment on the allegation. A former manager said he worked to keep the software out of apps whose clients didn’t want it.

At monthly meetings, Knitowski would brief staff on the startup’s prospects for getting bought by another company or attracting angel investors, another former manager recalled.

The Republican National Committee, in turn, had hired a private company to build a centralized hub for voter data for right-leaning campaigns called Data Trust, and Parscale joined its board. All the while, his team kept amassing mobile phone numbers, and offering Trump supporters MAGA swag in exchange for their digits.

“This is how Donald Trump stays president for four more years,” Parscale said, holding up his iPhone on stage at a 2018 rally supporting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s reelection. “Now this phone is how we connect with you. It’s how we turn you into the army of Trump.”

By early 2019, after Phunware had gone public, former colleagues said Knitowski started talking about his efforts to court the Trump campaign. In April, 15 percent of the staff was laid off due to “organizational restructuring and cost reductions,” according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

In July of that year, Knitowski rang the bell at the Nasdaq. But by then revenue was dropping and major clients were threatening to leave.

New York-based astrologer Susan Miller, whose glittery horoscope app had been one of Phunware’s most successful, said she would ask for features to be updated, and no one would call back.

“Have you ever talked to someone at a party who is always looking at the door and not at you because they want to talk to someone else more? It felt like that,” Miller said. “They just treated me like an old shoe.”

An investor said Knitowski stopped returning his calls, too.

“The guy seems very shady. He is all your best friend when he’s looking to raise money and once you have questions he is nowhere to be seen,” said Scott Walker, who said he lost more than $200,000 after Phunware’s stock tanked.

In August, there was something new to announce: work with American Made Media Consultants, “otherwise known as the ‘Trump-Pence 2020’ and ‘Keep America Great’ Campaign,” Knitowski said in an earnings call.

According to a document filed with Federal Communications Commission two months later, the company's directors included campaign operations director Sean Dollman and campaign counsel Alex Cannon.

Phunware would later reveal more details about its work on the Trump app, which would include location-based tools and other features to help the campaign crowdsource new users. Plus, there would be a gamified loyalty system, where supporters could accumulate points to spend on signed MAGA hats or pose for a picture with Trump.

By September 2019, 18 percent of the remaining staff was laid off after client Fox Networks Group left, taking a large percentage of Phunware’s sales with them, according to filings.

Managers asked engineers in Phunware’s Newport Beach office if they wanted to work on the Trump app, and some engineers who were opposed resigned, a former employee said.

Then in April, as coronavirus cases surged and stay-at-home orders shut down business, Phunware received a $2.9 million loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, a relief fund that Congress created to help small businesses keep workers employed through the pandemic.

Phunware COO Randall Crowder denied political favoritism helped Phunware get the loan.

“We got no help from the Trump campaign — boy I wish we could have, what a great way to have friends in high places — but that didn’t have any implication on what we did,” Crowder said in a recorded interview.

Phunware declined to return the money after the administration demanded that public companies that received more than $2 million give it back.

The next month, Nasdaq notified the company it could be delisted over its finances. To stay listed, companies must meet a set of standards to reassure investors that since the initial public offering, they remain a credible company.

SEC records revealed that by July, American Made Media Consultants accounted for one-third of Phunware’s sales, paying Phunware more than $1.6 million in the first half of the year. The Campaign Legal Center filed an FEC complaint alleging that the Trump campaign and a major PAC supporting it had shielded their spending on Phunware and other subcontractors through American Made Media Consultants.

As the pandemic kept many supporters at home, Trump’s campaign used the app to acquire new users remotely, and Parscale touted how the app was retooled to support virtual events. According to online data provider Apptopia, nearly 860,000 people downloaded the Trump app in July, the same month Biden’s campaign abandoned its first app, Team Joe, and asked followers to download an entirely new app, Vote Joe (only 11,075 did).

By mid-November, 2.8 million people had downloaded the Trump app, which Apptopia CEO Eliran Sapir estimated could give the campaign hundreds of millions of phone numbers, enabling it to reach people whose numbers were stored in their friends’ contact lists but never consented to being contacted. A Carnegie Mellon University researcher, however, estimated the total would be closer to 27 million due to duplicate phone numbers.

By then, the app had already laid the groundwork for a coordinated final months, allowing campaign officials to model supporters’ behavior under quarantine and incentivize them to appear at rallies.

“Why is that app so valuable? Because people like sharing messages with their friends from the campaign and getting news and updates,” said Republican consultant Eric Wilson. “But it’s not just an extractive resource. It’s also generating contacts and mindshare on behalf of the campaign.”

Phunware’s financial troubles hadn’t abated, however.

In a Thursday SEC filing, Phunware suddenly stopped disclosing its top customers by name. But by matching the accounting figures to past filings, AP derived that American Made Media Consultants is Phunware’s single biggest customer, and paid Phunware $2.4 million over the first 9 months of this year, accounting for nearly one-third of Phunware’s revenue. Two former employees concurred. The app developer also disclosed sizable debt and expressed “substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.”

On an earnings call with analysts last week, the company never mentioned its work for the Trump campaign, instead focusing on its future growth potential. Despite the company's uncertainties, some analysts say it has a positive long-term outlook due to the growth in mobile usage.

Last month, its stock rose slightly after the company announced it had finished two contracts for Honeywell. Honeywell fired back on Twitter, saying it had asked Phunware to retract its release, and that the industrial conglomerate “does not have an ongoing relationship with Phunware and does not plan to work with Phunware in the future.”

A second company, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, told AP Phunware had publicized a partnership between the companies where none existed. Knitowski declined to comment on either instance.

“We never had a relationship with Phunware, we don’t have any formalized partnership with them,” said spokesman Adam Bauer. “We didn’t authorize them to issue that press release and we asked them to take it down.”

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