New Yelp-style restaurant app for keeping MAGA hat wearers safe gets shut down

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Despite being distinctly “2016”, MAGA hats have found themselves in the news a lot over the past three years. The headgear might have been a brilliant branding exercise for Mr Trump, but the political affiliations have caused problems for anyone who might want to wear one of the hats in public.

Though they have landed several people in hot water, arguably the area where they have proved most contentious is in the food industry. During the Trump presidency, dozens of chapeau-ed customers have claimed to have been abused, ignored and evicted during routine restaurant trips, all on account of their garish headpiece. For one conservative entrepreneur, the situation has apparently reached breaking point.

Earlier this month, Oklahoma developer Scott Wallace unveiled what has been dubbed a new "Yelp for conservatives" by its proponents. “63red Safe” is “a new app to keep conservatives safe as they eat and shop,” with the intention to "simply get these politics out of restaurants and businesses," according to Wallace. The service has been designed to help customers judge whether a business is likely to look favourably on someone explicitly advertising their conservatism, whether that is by wearing a hat or carrying a firearm.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, lifelong Republican Wallace described the new service as “an everyday 'where can I go eat safely' app,” also revealing that he conceived the idea during a family shopping trip in Oklahoma City.

In a separate interview with the Washington Post, he relayed feeling uncertain whether buying "one of those MAGA hats" might make him the target of abuse. He remembered seeing the story of Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders expulsion from the Red Hen restaurant and decided to take matters into his own hands.

Though actual incidents of MAGA hat-induced violence are few and far between - the most obvious example being the case of a teenager who was accosted in a restaurant in 2018 - Wallace is in no doubt that the danger faced by behatted Trumpists is very real. “I believe that, between now and 2020, we’re going to see the rise of the socialist goon squad,” Wallace told The Daily Beast. “I think Antifa was nothing compared between now and what’s coming in 2020. And I’m deeply concerned.” Clearly for Wallace, protecting fellow conservatives is of utmost importance.

This makes the news that emerged on Monday all the more embarrassing for a man supposedly focused on safety. Several news outlets, including Gizmodo and New York magazine, have reported that “63red Safe” is actually an “open wound of accessible user data”. According to tech site Ars Technica, “Because the application is [built] in React Native, a JavaScript- and JSX-based scripting language that basically turns Web apps into “native” Apple iOS and Android applications, the entire architecture of the application is available to anyone who downloads and unpacks it.”

This fatal flaw allowed a French security researcher named Elliott Alderson to take to Twitter this week and show the world in painstaking detail how anyone registered to the service could have their details inadvertently leaked. He did this using Scott Wallace’s own password and email as an example. Far from keeping conservatives safe, it looks like the system might be the most effective way yet to uncover and locate disgruntled hat wearers (should one feel so inclined).  

Unsurprisingly, Wallace was less than pleased with the supposed data breach. In an angry post, he replied: “We see this person's illegal and failed attempts to access our database servers as a politically motivated attack, and will be reporting it to the FBI later today. We hope that, just as in the case of many other politically motivated Internet attacks, this perpetrator will be brought to justice, and we will pursue this matter, and all other attacks, failed or otherwise, to the utmost extent of the law. We log all activity against all our servers, and will present those logs as evidence of a crime.” A bemused Alderson quickly informed Wallace that he "did not hack your app,” before politely enquiring, “how did you fix the issue without updating your app?"

As if the technical issues weren’t enough to contend with, Wallace believes his service is also subject to a Big-Tech conspiracy. In another angry tweet, he accused Facebook of deliberately trying to sabotage the business because of its conservative leanings, railing that, "Apparently, 'Doing business while #conservative' is a real thing. Thanks to Facebook, where we get our location info, 63red Safe can't get any data. Our sincere apologies while we call Congress and try to break up this tech monopoly... " The tweet has since been deleted.

Since the revelations broke on Monday 12 March, the app has been removed, pending a major rethink. The 63red website, which also offers conservative news and communication apps, currently lists the service as “Coming (back) Soon!” Though the thousands of positive reviews left during the app’s brief stint in the charts suggest there may be an appetite for this type of service, it remains to be seen whether conservatives are willing to trust their data to a brand that now has a tangible track record of leakiness. Time will tell whether Wallace and “63red” have what it takes to rebuild that faith.