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Shadow Inc.’s Iowa caucus meltdown sent Twitter into overdrive to find the app’s real parents

Shadow Inc.’s Iowa caucus meltdown sent Twitter into overdrive to find the app’s real parents
[Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images]

One popular perversion of the Count Galeazzo Ciano goes like this: “Success has many fathers, but failure is a lonely orphan child.” That appears to apply well to the app meltdown that tanked the timely reporting of the Iowa caucus results last night. (The results will supposedly be made public at 5 p.m. today.)

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The Iowa Democratic Party, or IDP, chose to use an untested app made by a small developer named Shadow Inc. to report precinct results to the Democratic state committee. But when it came time to report, the app sent in only partial information, the IDP said today, which tanked the whole digital reporting process.

The “Democratic digital group” ACRONYM put out a statement last night saying that it was just an investor in Shadow.

But I watched in real time as people soon began unearthing tweets and other documents showing clearly that ACRONYM acquired Shadow in early 2019. ACRONYM still had tweets up about its acquisition of Shadow Inc.

Attempts to reach Kyle Tharp, ACRONYM’s VP of comms, by phone this morning resulted in a message saying the mailbox is full. Emails have not been returned. Tharp has no doubt been popular with journalists over the past 12 hours.

NPR’s Kate Payne and Miles Parks had the first real story about the Shadow app, which was reportedly developed in only two months. The January 14 story reported that election security people were already concerned about the app because it was brand new and untested, and because any time a voting technology is connected to the internet, it becomes a potential target for interception by bad actors.

Subsequent reports said that election volunteers in Iowa were already reporting problems with the Shadow app last week, but that the Iowa Democratic party failed to address the problem. The New York Times reported early today that the app was showing up on volunteers’ phones as something that looked like malware, and many just ignored it, planning instead on calling their precinct’s results in by phone.

HuffPost, meanwhile, found financial records showing that the Iowa Democratic Party paid Shadow $60,000 to develop the app during the months before the caucuses.

UPDATE: Shadow, Inc. has now made a public apology via Twitter:

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