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Apple denies Pennsylvania ballot verification app days before election

Apple on Friday rejected an app designed to ensure ballots are being correctly counted in Pennsylvania, saying the software violates App Store privacy guidelines.

As noted by The Information, Apple's decision arrives amid attempts to narrow ballot counting rules in battleground states, a strategy that could impact the outcome of the coming presidential election.

Drive Turnout, which was approved by Google for distribution on Android, allows users to identify Pennsylvania residents in their iPhone Contacts and Facebook accounts by syncing those databases with the app. The software then conducts a ballot status check using publicly available information from the Pennsylvania state website. The site allows anyone to search for ballot status if they have a voter's name, date of birth and county of residence. Users are able to reach out to contacts whose votes are in jeopardy of not being counted.

"The Drive Turnout app helps you manage all this. We can help you keep track of which of your contacts are in PA, which ones have already voted successfully vs which ones you need to check up on, etc. You're in full control of any communication you want to do with those people," according to the app's description on Google Play.

Apple told the developer of Drive Turnout, Ari Steinberg, that the app violates a guideline which forbids compilation of personal information from "any source that is not directly from the user or without the user's explicit consent, even public databases." The company held the app for two weeks before ultimately issuing a denial.

"If there's a story here to tell, the story is asking the question, Should it be Apple making these decisions?" said Steinberg, an engineering director at Airbnb who previously worked at Facebook. "Why does it fall to them to make a call on whether it's creepy or not?"

For its part, Apple in a statement to The Information said the privacy and security of its users is of paramount importance. Specifically, the app broke App Store rules because it compiles data without consent.

Steinberg notes Apple allows users to import contact information into its own Contacts app without user consent, seemingly at odds with App Store rules.