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这家想帮特朗普连任的科技公司,如今自身难保

这家想帮特朗普连任的科技公司,如今自身难保

Garance Burke,美联社 2020年11月21日
通过手机,就能把用户打造成特朗普的拥护者

2020年唐纳德·特朗普竞选连任相关服务由一款手机应用提供,该应用可协助监控数百万支持者的动向,还能轻松关联社交网络。

虽然竞选活动逐渐尘埃落定,数据策略仍非常活跃,这款应用收集的数据依然可以用在很多其他方面,例如为特朗普未来的政治活动筹钱、煽动粉丝,甚至为新成立媒体帝国建立受众群等。

通过该应用,特朗普团队能直接与280万下载用户交流,这比大选期间其他应用触及人群都多。如果获得用户允许,还能联系到通讯录里的其他人。

隐私政策和用户界面显示,安装后用户在应用里和现实世界中的行为都会受到追踪。应用内能推送头条新闻,同步群发信息,出售竞选周边,筹集资金,还会记录总统集会的出席率。

然而,根据对前雇员的采访以及财务文件和法庭文件的内容,这家为特朗普竞选开发应用的企业已陷入财务困境,还在关键时刻得到了特朗普政府和竞选团队的支持。

总部位于奥斯汀的Phunware股价已跌至1美元以下,最近同意向Uber支付450万美元和解欺诈广告索赔。今年早些时候,公司还差点被纳斯达克摘牌。今年4月,该公司在开发特朗普竞选应用时,曾依据《冠状病毒援助、救济和经济安全法案》获得了290万美元贷款。

Phunware作为创业公司一直在苦苦挣扎,曾帮医院和位于曼哈顿的占星家开发应用。不过让竞选监督机构和前员工都感到惊讶的是,Phunware在特朗普竞选争取连任的过程中居然发挥了巨大作用。公司持续地收集数据并筹款,在此过程中,也为自身的财务状况争取到一线生机。

甚至在各大媒体宣称特朗普的民主党对手乔·拜登当选后,该应用还在不断推出支持特朗普的内容。

“我们都知道为什么乔·拜登急着冒充赢家,还有拜登的媒体盟友为何如此努力地提供帮助。因为他们不希望真相曝光,”本月早些时候特朗普发布的一份声明中写道。“美国人民的选票准确清点之前,我不会停止战斗。”

本周二,该应用推出了新内容,为乔治亚州清点选票的诉讼辩护。

上周,该应用呼吁人们向特朗普新成立的“选举捍卫基金”捐款,将筹集到的大部分资金捐给特朗普组建名为“拯救美国”的新政治行动委员会。政治行动委员会开支方面几乎没有限制,可承担奢侈的个人开支或向其他候选人提供资金。

为无党派竞选法律中心工作的联邦选举委员会前任检察官阿达夫·诺蒂表示,虽然最近该应用活动有所减弱,但它已经收集了支持者的丰富数据,其中包括从联系人到IP地址再到位置数据等,均可为今后服务。

他补充说,国会和联邦选举委员会还尚未就管理竞选过程中对个人数据如何使用制定规则,也没有限制竞选活动可向哪些公司出售名单。

诺蒂说:“我认为接下来他会转移竞选中积累的资产,数据肯定能买,而且竞选团队也愿意卖,问题主要是多少钱。”

Phunware拒绝回答有关该应用、公司财务状况、内部文化以及与大选相关的问题。

“不管美国什么级别的选举,都与Phunware绝对无关……利用移动软件或移动企业云平台的客户创建或使用的内容也与公司无关,”首席执行官艾伦·奈托夫斯基在一封电子邮件中说。

至于未来会不会使用Phunware应用等数字平台收集的众多支持者数据,负责特朗普竞选的高层官员拒绝回答。

一位匿名官员表示:“相关数据归竞选活动所有,限制了从他们的服务器上收集内容,”

近年来Phunware财务方面遭遇挑战,经历了裁员、客户和投资人流失等问题。其中10人同意接受美联社采访,其中部分人选择匿名,因为签署了保密协议或担心被报复。

法院记录显示,2017年Phunware曾起诉客户网约车平台Uber,指控该公司未支付账单。

但Uber也提起诉讼,指控Phunware存在诸多欺诈行为,包括允许Uber广告在色情网站上出现。Phunware前员则工表示,公司开始寻找收入多样化的新途径。

继续探究,就会发现前总统乔治·W·布什顾问兼共和党策略师卡尔·罗夫的身影。

进入白宫很久以前,罗夫在德克萨斯政界就以其直邮专家的身份闻名。他曾表示,直邮政治广告之所以有效,是因为基本上“不受新闻报道影响”,或者公众几乎看不见。

罗夫接受美联社采访时表示,经过一位跟他妻子关系不错的游说者牵线,认识了Phunware高管,游说者声称该公司曾为运动队和《财富》美国100强公司开发应用,公司整合了地理围栏技术,可通过手机跟踪人们的活动。

Phunware前员工和游说者手下的工作人员给罗夫做了介绍,展示该公司如何利用手机数据发送定制的政治广告,而且这种广告很难被追踪。

“他非常震惊。好像在说‘这数据极其强大,’”一位前员工回忆说。

罗夫说,后来他帮Phunware跟特朗普2016年大选数字总监布拉德·帕斯卡尔搭上了关系。

“我认为应用里的数据能影响到政治,所以后来一次谈话中,我向布拉德·帕斯卡尔提了一句,”罗夫说,“他说‘听起来挺有趣’,也就这样,他从来没告诉我他找了那家公司。”

奈托夫斯基在一封电子邮件中表示,与特朗普竞选建立了联系。

“一位硅谷首席执行官进行1对1介绍后,我代表Phunware直接见了特朗普竞选团队,硅谷首席执行官希望我们考虑共同起草征求建议书,建议书中的最终考虑对象也包括Salesforce,”奈托夫斯基说。

剑桥分析公司所引发的争议让帕斯卡尔很震惊。剑桥分析公司被指不当使用Facebook的数据预测2016年大选中的选民行为。同时,帕斯卡尔也意识到社交媒体平台的偏见,所以他希望绕过科技巨头,重新调整连任活动的方向,直接与支持者建立联系。

前合作者说,2016年特朗普获胜后,帕斯卡尔与顾问和前剑桥分析数据科学家合作建立了数据仓库,通过专门的广告精确瞄准受众。

与此同时,Phunware开始向竞选活动推销自家应用,称可通过地理围栏技术接触到有可能投票的选民,主要根据“活动参与、投票中心、体育赛事——甚至对手的竞选集会”等兴趣领域虚拟划分人群,一篇博客文章称。

两位前员工说,奈托夫斯基告诉工程师,要在每个应用中嵌入隐形跟踪软件来跟踪用户行为,以加强Phunware对竞选的作用。

一位前员工说:“他们说,要在每个应用里加入跟踪功能收集一切信息,而政治倾向就是原因之一。即使用户表示不想要,也会加进去。”

奈托夫斯基拒绝对该指控发表评论。一位前经理表示,曾努力让软件不受用户不喜欢的应用干扰。

另一位前经理回忆说,月度会议上,奈托夫斯基会向员工介绍另一家公司来收购或吸引到天使投资者的前景。

共和党全国委员会又聘请了一家私营公司,收集选民数据进行右倾竞选活动,称之为数据信托,帕斯卡尔也加入了该公司董事会。一直以来,他的团队不断积累手机号码,向特朗普的支持者提供竞选周边交换数据。

“这就是唐纳德·特朗普能连任四年的原因,”2018年帕斯卡尔在支持德克萨斯州参议员特德·克鲁兹连任的集会上举起手中的iPhone说。“现在手机就是我们跟你们连接的方式。我们用手机把你们打造成特朗普的大军。”

到了2019年初Phunware上市后,前同事说奈托夫斯基开始谈论为讨好特朗普阵营做的努力。美国证券交易委员会的文件显示,今年4月,15%的员工因“结构调整和成本降低”被裁员。

同年7月,奈托夫斯基在纳斯达克成功敲钟。但当时公司收入下降,大客户纷纷威胁称要离开。

纽约的占星家苏珊·米勒表示要求更新功能,却没人理她。米勒的占星应用曾是Phunware最成功的产品之一。

“你有没有体验过派对上跟某个人说话,但那人总是盯着门却不看你,因为他想和别人说话?就是那种感觉。”米勒说,“他们对我,就像对待一只旧鞋一样。”

一位投资者也抱怨说奈托夫斯基不接电话。

斯科特·沃克说:“这家伙很阴暗。他想筹钱的时候就是挚友,等到有问题想问他,人都找不到。”他说,Phunware股票下跌害他亏损超过20万美元。

8月,该公司有了一些新消息,即与“美国制造媒体咨询公司”合作,“也被称为‘特朗普-彭斯2020竞选’和‘让美国强大’竞选活动,”奈托夫斯基在一次财报电话会议上说。

根据两个月后提交给联邦通信委员会的一份文件,该公司董事包括竞选运营总监肖恩·多尔曼和竞选顾问亚历克斯·坎农。

之后Phunware披露了与特朗普竞选应用更多的工作细节,其中包括基于地理位置的工具和其他功能,主要帮助竞选争取新用户。此外还有游戏化的忠诚系统,支持者可攒积分兑换有签名的“让美国再次伟大”帽子,或者与特朗普合影。

文件显示,2019年9月福克斯网络集团与公司停止合作后,剩余员工里有18%被解雇,Phunware销售额也少了很大一块。

一名前雇员说,经理曾询问Phunware在纽波特海滩办公室的工程师是否愿意开发特朗普应用,一些反对的工程师选择辞职。

然后在今年4月,由于新冠肺炎病例激增,居家隔离令也中断了不少业务,Phunware从美国小企业管理局的“薪水保护计划”获得了290万美元的贷款。这是美国国会创建的救济基金,主要为了帮助小企业维持员工就业挺过疫情。

Phunware首席运营官兰德尔·克劳德否认公司靠政治偏向获得贷款。

“我们并未得到特朗普竞选团队的帮助,其实我真希望他们能来帮忙,能在高层有朋友多棒。但不管怎样,这对我们的业务不会产生任何影响,”克劳德在一次录音采访中表示。

政府要求收到超过200万美元的上市公司退还资金之后,Phunware选择了拒绝。

之后一个月,纳斯达克通知Phunware可能因财务问题被摘牌。要想继续上市就要符合一定标准,以向投资者证明,自首次公开募股以来,一直值得信赖。

美国证券交易委员会的文件显示,到今年7月“美国制造媒体咨询公司”相关业务占到Phunware销售额三分之一,今年上半年就向Phunware支付了160多万美元。

竞选法律中心向联邦选举委员会提出申诉,指控特朗普竞选团队以及旗下主要的政治行动委员会通过“美国制造媒体咨询公司”,隐瞒了在Phunware和其他分包商上的开支。

疫情期间,很多支持者只能留在家里,特朗普的竞选团队利用该应用远程获取新用户,帕斯卡尔则大肆宣扬该应用如何经过调整支持虚拟活动。

据在线数据提供商Apptopia称,今年7月近86万人下载了这款特朗普竞选应用。就在同一个月,拜登的竞选团队放弃了第一个应用Team Joe,呼吁支持者下载新应用Vote Joe(只有11075人下载了)。

截至11月中旬,已有280万人下载了特朗普应用,Apptopia首席执行官埃利兰·萨皮尔估计,该应用可为竞选活动提供数亿电话号码,其中包括通讯录里存了号码,但从未同意接受联系的人。

不过,据卡内基梅隆大学一位研究员估计,由于电话号码有重复,总人数接近2700万。

当时,该应用已为最后几个月的协调工作打下基础,竞选团队官员能模拟隔离条件下支持者的行为,激励人们参与集会。

共和党顾问埃里克·威尔逊说:“为什么该应用价值巨大?因为人们喜欢跟竞选活动中认识的朋友分享信息,获取新闻和最新消息,不仅可以用来吸取资源,也为竞选活动扩大了人脉,促进思想交流。”

然而,Phunware的财务困境并未缓解。

在美国证券交易委员会周四的一份文件中,Phunware突然停止披露关键客户的名字。但是,通过将会计数据与过去文件比对,美联社发现美国制造媒体咨询公司是Phunware唯一的大客户,今年前9个月共支付了240万美元,占其收入近三分之一。两位前雇员表示情况属实。公司还披露了巨额债务,并“严重怀疑持续经营能力”。

上周,在与分析师交流的财报电话会上,公司只字未提与特朗普竞选团队合作事宜,主要谈的是未来的增长潜力。尽管公司经营存在不确定性,但一些分析师表示,由于手机使用量增长,依然看好公司长期前景。

上个月,该公司宣布完成与霍尼韦尔合作的两份合同后,股价小幅上涨。霍尼韦尔在Twitter上回击称,已要求Phunware撤销发布,宣称集团“与Phunware没有持续关系,未来也不打算合作”。

另一家公司——惠普,对美联社表示,Phunware曾宣布两家公司合作,然而根本不存在。奈托夫斯基对两起事件均不予置评。

惠普发言人亚当·鲍尔表示:“我们从未与Phunware合作,与该公司没有任何正式合作关系。 我们并未授权该公司发布新闻稿,已要求撤下。”(财富中文网)

译者:夏林

编辑:徐晓彤

2020年唐纳德·特朗普竞选连任相关服务由一款手机应用提供,该应用可协助监控数百万支持者的动向,还能轻松关联社交网络。

虽然竞选活动逐渐尘埃落定,数据策略仍非常活跃,这款应用收集的数据依然可以用在很多其他方面,例如为特朗普未来的政治活动筹钱、煽动粉丝,甚至为新成立媒体帝国建立受众群等。

通过该应用,特朗普团队能直接与280万下载用户交流,这比大选期间其他应用触及人群都多。如果获得用户允许,还能联系到通讯录里的其他人。

隐私政策和用户界面显示,安装后用户在应用里和现实世界中的行为都会受到追踪。应用内能推送头条新闻,同步群发信息,出售竞选周边,筹集资金,还会记录总统集会的出席率。

然而,根据对前雇员的采访以及财务文件和法庭文件的内容,这家为特朗普竞选开发应用的企业已陷入财务困境,还在关键时刻得到了特朗普政府和竞选团队的支持。

总部位于奥斯汀的Phunware股价已跌至1美元以下,最近同意向Uber支付450万美元和解欺诈广告索赔。今年早些时候,公司还差点被纳斯达克摘牌。今年4月,该公司在开发特朗普竞选应用时,曾依据《冠状病毒援助、救济和经济安全法案》获得了290万美元贷款。

Phunware作为创业公司一直在苦苦挣扎,曾帮医院和位于曼哈顿的占星家开发应用。不过让竞选监督机构和前员工都感到惊讶的是,Phunware在特朗普竞选争取连任的过程中居然发挥了巨大作用。公司持续地收集数据并筹款,在此过程中,也为自身的财务状况争取到一线生机。

甚至在各大媒体宣称特朗普的民主党对手乔·拜登当选后,该应用还在不断推出支持特朗普的内容。

“我们都知道为什么乔·拜登急着冒充赢家,还有拜登的媒体盟友为何如此努力地提供帮助。因为他们不希望真相曝光,”本月早些时候特朗普发布的一份声明中写道。“美国人民的选票准确清点之前,我不会停止战斗。”

本周二,该应用推出了新内容,为乔治亚州清点选票的诉讼辩护。

上周,该应用呼吁人们向特朗普新成立的“选举捍卫基金”捐款,将筹集到的大部分资金捐给特朗普组建名为“拯救美国”的新政治行动委员会。政治行动委员会开支方面几乎没有限制,可承担奢侈的个人开支或向其他候选人提供资金。

为无党派竞选法律中心工作的联邦选举委员会前任检察官阿达夫·诺蒂表示,虽然最近该应用活动有所减弱,但它已经收集了支持者的丰富数据,其中包括从联系人到IP地址再到位置数据等,均可为今后服务。

他补充说,国会和联邦选举委员会还尚未就管理竞选过程中对个人数据如何使用制定规则,也没有限制竞选活动可向哪些公司出售名单。

诺蒂说:“我认为接下来他会转移竞选中积累的资产,数据肯定能买,而且竞选团队也愿意卖,问题主要是多少钱。”

Phunware拒绝回答有关该应用、公司财务状况、内部文化以及与大选相关的问题。

“不管美国什么级别的选举,都与Phunware绝对无关……利用移动软件或移动企业云平台的客户创建或使用的内容也与公司无关,”首席执行官艾伦·奈托夫斯基在一封电子邮件中说。

至于未来会不会使用Phunware应用等数字平台收集的众多支持者数据,负责特朗普竞选的高层官员拒绝回答。

一位匿名官员表示:“相关数据归竞选活动所有,限制了从他们的服务器上收集内容,”

近年来Phunware财务方面遭遇挑战,经历了裁员、客户和投资人流失等问题。其中10人同意接受美联社采访,其中部分人选择匿名,因为签署了保密协议或担心被报复。

法院记录显示,2017年Phunware曾起诉客户网约车平台Uber,指控该公司未支付账单。

但Uber也提起诉讼,指控Phunware存在诸多欺诈行为,包括允许Uber广告在色情网站上出现。Phunware前员则工表示,公司开始寻找收入多样化的新途径。

继续探究,就会发现前总统乔治·W·布什顾问兼共和党策略师卡尔·罗夫的身影。

进入白宫很久以前,罗夫在德克萨斯政界就以其直邮专家的身份闻名。他曾表示,直邮政治广告之所以有效,是因为基本上“不受新闻报道影响”,或者公众几乎看不见。

罗夫接受美联社采访时表示,经过一位跟他妻子关系不错的游说者牵线,认识了Phunware高管,游说者声称该公司曾为运动队和《财富》美国100强公司开发应用,公司整合了地理围栏技术,可通过手机跟踪人们的活动。

Phunware前员工和游说者手下的工作人员给罗夫做了介绍,展示该公司如何利用手机数据发送定制的政治广告,而且这种广告很难被追踪。

“他非常震惊。好像在说‘这数据极其强大,’”一位前员工回忆说。

罗夫说,后来他帮Phunware跟特朗普2016年大选数字总监布拉德·帕斯卡尔搭上了关系。

“我认为应用里的数据能影响到政治,所以后来一次谈话中,我向布拉德·帕斯卡尔提了一句,”罗夫说,“他说‘听起来挺有趣’,也就这样,他从来没告诉我他找了那家公司。”

奈托夫斯基在一封电子邮件中表示,与特朗普竞选建立了联系。

“一位硅谷首席执行官进行1对1介绍后,我代表Phunware直接见了特朗普竞选团队,硅谷首席执行官希望我们考虑共同起草征求建议书,建议书中的最终考虑对象也包括Salesforce,”奈托夫斯基说。

剑桥分析公司所引发的争议让帕斯卡尔很震惊。剑桥分析公司被指不当使用Facebook的数据预测2016年大选中的选民行为。同时,帕斯卡尔也意识到社交媒体平台的偏见,所以他希望绕过科技巨头,重新调整连任活动的方向,直接与支持者建立联系。

前合作者说,2016年特朗普获胜后,帕斯卡尔与顾问和前剑桥分析数据科学家合作建立了数据仓库,通过专门的广告精确瞄准受众。

与此同时,Phunware开始向竞选活动推销自家应用,称可通过地理围栏技术接触到有可能投票的选民,主要根据“活动参与、投票中心、体育赛事——甚至对手的竞选集会”等兴趣领域虚拟划分人群,一篇博客文章称。

两位前员工说,奈托夫斯基告诉工程师,要在每个应用中嵌入隐形跟踪软件来跟踪用户行为,以加强Phunware对竞选的作用。

一位前员工说:“他们说,要在每个应用里加入跟踪功能收集一切信息,而政治倾向就是原因之一。即使用户表示不想要,也会加进去。”

奈托夫斯基拒绝对该指控发表评论。一位前经理表示,曾努力让软件不受用户不喜欢的应用干扰。

另一位前经理回忆说,月度会议上,奈托夫斯基会向员工介绍另一家公司来收购或吸引到天使投资者的前景。

共和党全国委员会又聘请了一家私营公司,收集选民数据进行右倾竞选活动,称之为数据信托,帕斯卡尔也加入了该公司董事会。一直以来,他的团队不断积累手机号码,向特朗普的支持者提供竞选周边交换数据。

“这就是唐纳德·特朗普能连任四年的原因,”2018年帕斯卡尔在支持德克萨斯州参议员特德·克鲁兹连任的集会上举起手中的iPhone说。“现在手机就是我们跟你们连接的方式。我们用手机把你们打造成特朗普的大军。”

到了2019年初Phunware上市后,前同事说奈托夫斯基开始谈论为讨好特朗普阵营做的努力。美国证券交易委员会的文件显示,今年4月,15%的员工因“结构调整和成本降低”被裁员。

同年7月,奈托夫斯基在纳斯达克成功敲钟。但当时公司收入下降,大客户纷纷威胁称要离开。

纽约的占星家苏珊·米勒表示要求更新功能,却没人理她。米勒的占星应用曾是Phunware最成功的产品之一。

“你有没有体验过派对上跟某个人说话,但那人总是盯着门却不看你,因为他想和别人说话?就是那种感觉。”米勒说,“他们对我,就像对待一只旧鞋一样。”

一位投资者也抱怨说奈托夫斯基不接电话。

斯科特·沃克说:“这家伙很阴暗。他想筹钱的时候就是挚友,等到有问题想问他,人都找不到。”他说,Phunware股票下跌害他亏损超过20万美元。

8月,该公司有了一些新消息,即与“美国制造媒体咨询公司”合作,“也被称为‘特朗普-彭斯2020竞选’和‘让美国强大’竞选活动,”奈托夫斯基在一次财报电话会议上说。

根据两个月后提交给联邦通信委员会的一份文件,该公司董事包括竞选运营总监肖恩·多尔曼和竞选顾问亚历克斯·坎农。

之后Phunware披露了与特朗普竞选应用更多的工作细节,其中包括基于地理位置的工具和其他功能,主要帮助竞选争取新用户。此外还有游戏化的忠诚系统,支持者可攒积分兑换有签名的“让美国再次伟大”帽子,或者与特朗普合影。

文件显示,2019年9月福克斯网络集团与公司停止合作后,剩余员工里有18%被解雇,Phunware销售额也少了很大一块。

一名前雇员说,经理曾询问Phunware在纽波特海滩办公室的工程师是否愿意开发特朗普应用,一些反对的工程师选择辞职。

然后在今年4月,由于新冠肺炎病例激增,居家隔离令也中断了不少业务,Phunware从美国小企业管理局的“薪水保护计划”获得了290万美元的贷款。这是美国国会创建的救济基金,主要为了帮助小企业维持员工就业挺过疫情。

Phunware首席运营官兰德尔·克劳德否认公司靠政治偏向获得贷款。

“我们并未得到特朗普竞选团队的帮助,其实我真希望他们能来帮忙,能在高层有朋友多棒。但不管怎样,这对我们的业务不会产生任何影响,”克劳德在一次录音采访中表示。

政府要求收到超过200万美元的上市公司退还资金之后,Phunware选择了拒绝。

之后一个月,纳斯达克通知Phunware可能因财务问题被摘牌。要想继续上市就要符合一定标准,以向投资者证明,自首次公开募股以来,一直值得信赖。

美国证券交易委员会的文件显示,到今年7月“美国制造媒体咨询公司”相关业务占到Phunware销售额三分之一,今年上半年就向Phunware支付了160多万美元。

竞选法律中心向联邦选举委员会提出申诉,指控特朗普竞选团队以及旗下主要的政治行动委员会通过“美国制造媒体咨询公司”,隐瞒了在Phunware和其他分包商上的开支。

疫情期间,很多支持者只能留在家里,特朗普的竞选团队利用该应用远程获取新用户,帕斯卡尔则大肆宣扬该应用如何经过调整支持虚拟活动。

据在线数据提供商Apptopia称,今年7月近86万人下载了这款特朗普竞选应用。就在同一个月,拜登的竞选团队放弃了第一个应用Team Joe,呼吁支持者下载新应用Vote Joe(只有11075人下载了)。

截至11月中旬,已有280万人下载了特朗普应用,Apptopia首席执行官埃利兰·萨皮尔估计,该应用可为竞选活动提供数亿电话号码,其中包括通讯录里存了号码,但从未同意接受联系的人。

不过,据卡内基梅隆大学一位研究员估计,由于电话号码有重复,总人数接近2700万。

当时,该应用已为最后几个月的协调工作打下基础,竞选团队官员能模拟隔离条件下支持者的行为,激励人们参与集会。

共和党顾问埃里克·威尔逊说:“为什么该应用价值巨大?因为人们喜欢跟竞选活动中认识的朋友分享信息,获取新闻和最新消息,不仅可以用来吸取资源,也为竞选活动扩大了人脉,促进思想交流。”

然而,Phunware的财务困境并未缓解。

在美国证券交易委员会周四的一份文件中,Phunware突然停止披露关键客户的名字。但是,通过将会计数据与过去文件比对,美联社发现美国制造媒体咨询公司是Phunware唯一的大客户,今年前9个月共支付了240万美元,占其收入近三分之一。两位前雇员表示情况属实。公司还披露了巨额债务,并“严重怀疑持续经营能力”。

上周,在与分析师交流的财报电话会上,公司只字未提与特朗普竞选团队合作事宜,主要谈的是未来的增长潜力。尽管公司经营存在不确定性,但一些分析师表示,由于手机使用量增长,依然看好公司长期前景。

上个月,该公司宣布完成与霍尼韦尔合作的两份合同后,股价小幅上涨。霍尼韦尔在Twitter上回击称,已要求Phunware撤销发布,宣称集团“与Phunware没有持续关系,未来也不打算合作”。

另一家公司——惠普,对美联社表示,Phunware曾宣布两家公司合作,然而根本不存在。奈托夫斯基对两起事件均不予置评。

惠普发言人亚当·鲍尔表示:“我们从未与Phunware合作,与该公司没有任何正式合作关系。 我们并未授权该公司发布新闻稿,已要求撤下。”(财富中文网)

译者:夏林

编辑:徐晓彤

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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