Republican Senate candidate from Ohio, JD Vance, is set to take advantage of the same Big Tech data-gathering tactics he attacked on the campaign trail.
Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” and co-founder of venture capital firm Narya Capital, focused many of his talking points on Big Tech, which has become a popular target for the Trump wing of the GOP. But Vance himself has made much of his fortune investing in tech companies. Vance received Donald Trump’s endorsement earlier this month in the crowded primary race to replace incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. He’s been particularly outspoken about the data-gathering tactics used by tech giants, but his company recently invested in a religious app that does just that, harvesting user data as a “business asset.”
During an interview with Breitbart News in January, Vance complained about companies “stealing our data and selling it to our enemies.”
“Nothing says Google should be allowed to harvest your data as a consumer,” he said.
Vance went so far as to call for the practice to be banned in a video posted to Facebook. “Perhaps we should make it illegal for them – or at least require disclosure before they steal our data, before they harvest our data and then resell it to us as targeted advertising,” a- he declared.
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But a BuzzFeed News investigation earlier this year found that some religious and prayer apps prey on unwitting users by collecting their data and sharing it with third-party vendors. One such app mentioned in the report is Hallow, which targets Roman Catholics and collects “extensive information about their users.” The company says it does not currently sell user data, but reserves “full discretion” to share it as it sees fit.
Hallow, “the #1 Catholic prayer and meditation app,” recently completed a $40 million investment round that included JD Vance’s company, Narya Capital, as well as Peter Thiel.
Hallow bills itself as the “#1 Catholic prayer and meditation app” and announced last November that it had completed a $40 million investment round that included Narya and Peter Thiel, the Trump megadonor who funds Vance’s candidacy for the Senate to the tune of at least $13.5. million. Hallow is one of the seven apps Narya lists in its portfolio. Vance is co-founder and partner of Narya, which has paid him more than $400,000 since January 2020, according to a recent personal finance disclosure.
Hallow collects “detailed information” about its users, although company officials told BuzzFeed News that it has not shared user information with third parties. disclose information to marketing companies, government or other third parties. The company, which offers both free and paid versions of its app, classifies user data as a “business asset,” perhaps “one of its most valuable,” according to the BuzzFeed survey.
Although the company does not yet sell data, privacy researcher Zach Edwards told BuzzFeed that is subject to change at any time without notice. “Until these prayer apps have been around for a few years,” he said, “users should anticipate that at any time online advertising could be easily integrated into these websites, and data that they currently collect could be used to optimize new advertising systems.”
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Other apps like Bible Gateway, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., already make money by sharing user data in an ad targeting system called NewsIQ, which claims it can “capture preferences, opinions and emotions” that advertisers could exploit.
Lawmakers have expressed concerns about the BuzzFeed investigation.
“This investigation makes even clearer the need for Congress to pass comprehensive consumer privacy laws to ensure that the public is in control of their most intimate personal information – not distant corporations and tech giants,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who chairs a Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Data Security, told BuzzFeed.
Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told BuzzFeed that companies “have a duty to explain if and how their users’ personal prayers are used by marketers,” adding that “hiding this information would be a disgusting indication that they prioritize profit over faith.”
Vance’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but a Democratic PAC criticized Vance for his ties to the company.
“JD Vance is a Silicon Valley insider who’s backed by his former billionaire tech boss,” American Bridge 21st Century spokesman Brad Bainum told Salon, “and continues to prove himself. a total and complete fraud who cannot be trusted.”