Friday, May 27

French voting app raises data protection concerns ahead of election

A new French app called Elyze that matches users with the presidential candidate offering a program more similar to their own ideals has been in the spotlight due to growing ethical concerns.

The app has been downloaded more than 1.2 million times in just over two weeks and has topped the download charts in the country.

What is Elyse?

Presented as a Tinder for politics, Elyze (a pun on the word Elysée, the official residence of the president) asks users questions on topics such as the environment, the economy and the education sector. The app uses the information to indicate which candidate most closely aligns with the user’s views in the upcoming April election.

The creators of the application have said that the objective of Elyze is to fight against low participation and electoral abstention among young people.

a recent ifop survey revealed that 59% of 18-30 year olds do not plan to vote in the first round of the next election.

What are the concerns about Elyze?

Due to some technical errors, the app has fueled numerous conspiracy theories online. One of the issues raised by users was that the current president, Emmanuel Macron, came out on top, even if he tied with many other candidates.

This has raised questions about who was behind the app and whether it has political bias. The app’s founders released a statement saying it was a technical bug that is being fixed.

“Neutrality is our driving force, no candidate benefits from any preferential treatment,” the app team tweeted.

But there are also fears about the ethics of the data the app stores and how it uses it. Users can choose whether Elyze collects data about them, such as their gender, zip code, and previous voting preferences.

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But this kind of information can be enough to say a lot about where and how someone lives and who they are likely to vote for. An analyst described Elyze as “possessing one of the most powerful databases in French political history, which some parties would pay a lot of money to have”.

Elyze also awakened memories of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when data from millions of Facebook users was collected without consent for political advertising to influence votes during Brexit and during the 2016 US presidential election.

How has Elyze reacted?

Elyze promises that none of this data will be sold to political parties or any other political campaign team. But the French data protection watchdog, Cnil, will check whether Elyze complies with regulations on this “sensitive data”.

The watchdog has said that for apps like this, users need to give clear consent for their data to be collected, otherwise it’s illegal.

One way to get around this restriction could be to make the data anonymous. But this might not be possible, since a zip code and date of birth could identify a person quite easily. Now it is up to the Cnil to study the case and possibly impose changes to the application.

But several data analysts have said that Elyze should be more transparent about how the app works and how it shares its code. One developer who managed to hack the app in a few hours and added his name to the list of candidates tweeted about the importance of transparency for such apps during events like elections.

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