Skip to main content

Ted Cruz's app turns handing over your friends' contact info into a game

Ted Cruz's app turns handing over your friends' contact info into a game

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Ted Cruz wants your phonebook and he's willing to give you meaningless points to get it. The campaign for the would-be Republican presidential candidate has gamified its official app, offering users "actions points" (we don't know why they weren't called "Cruz coins") as rewards for a range of tasks. Getting friends to download the app nets you 25 AP, sharing Cruz's tax plan on social media gets you 50 AP, and donating money earns you 200 AP. But the big bucks, according to a report from NPR, are saved for handing over access to your phone's contact list: that earns you 250 AP.

This isn't the first time mobile apps have been used to drum up support for presidential campaigns of course. In 2012, both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama fielded their own mobile offerings, which collated information on volunteering and donating. But in 2016, the apps have become more sophisticated. Rand Paul's includes a meme generator and Space Invaders clone, while Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have chosen to instead field custom sticker sets and an emoji keyboard so even casual chats are flavored with a bit of political spice.

Screenshots from Ted Cruz's app.

Ben Carson's app also uses gamification tactics, offering "coin" rewards for answering trivia questions and responding to polls. (Sample poll: "Which of Dr. Carson's Books Have You Read?" Choices include Gifted Hands, America the Beautiful, and Think Big: Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence.) However, Cruz's offering is much more in-depth, with graphs tracking your daily progress, a global leaderboard, and different badges and titles depending on how many points you've earned. You start life as an "Intern" (100+ AP), and can move up to "Patriot" (50,000+ AP) or even, eventually, "Revolutionary" (250,000+ AP). And, yes, as you can see in the screenshots above, the badge for "Revolutionary" is clearly the mockingjay pin from the Hunger Games.

action points aren't completely useless — you can earn free stickers

Not many people will be making it the "Revolutionary" level, though. According to NPR, one of the app's highest-ranking users, Kay Quirk, only has 70,000 points, which she's collected mainly by sharing pro-Cruz messages and memes on Twitter and Facebook. "I get 5 points for every like I get," Quirk told NPR. There are some rewards for this work though: 10,000 AP will get you a free bumper sticker, 25,000 AP a campaign T-shirt, and top earners also get shoutouts from Cruz's official social media accounts.

The pointless of points aside, the app does allow the campaign to target voters based on users' phonebooks. Chris Wilson, Cruz's director of research and analytics, told NPR that the app can "identify within a person's contact list those voters that may be part of our core targeting list." Although it's not clear exactly how this process works, Wilson says the app then prompts you to talk to these individuals. "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," he says. And in return? Well, you get more points.