French voting app Elyze matches users with presidential candidates that share their values

The founders say they want to get young French people more involved in politics.

January 16, 2022, 6:40 PM

PARIS -- What would you do if your ideal presidential candidate was only a few swipes away?

That's the promise of the French app Elyze, which was created by students Grégoire Cazcarra, 22, and François Mari, 19, who will participate in their first presidential election in less than three months.

Elyze is for voting, not dating, but like the popular dating app Tinder, it asks users to swipe right or left -- right to agree, left to disagree -- with more than 500 anonymous propositions. It then ranks each user's matches by affinity to each of the dozen candidates. In addition, the app offers a short explanation tab for each topic, and a third option if the user wants to pass rather than agree or disagree.

With the first round of the French presidential elections around the corner, Elyze's founders want to convince young French people to vote on April 10.

"I see around me that my friends have a more distanced, even more critical relationship with the political class, and that many people do not go to vote because they have the impression that politics no longer has an impact on their daily lives, that it is no longer able to improve our lives, and that their voices, their votes, will not change anything or even are not legitimate," Cazcarra told ABC News.

Elyze was invented to convince citizens, particularly young ones, "whatever their political sensitivity, their personal background, that their voice is worth hearing," Cazcarra added.

The app has been downloaded more than 500,000 times since its launch on Jan. 2.

Abstention, especially among young voters, regardless of the type of election, has been a major issue in France for many years now, with notably 82% of young people ages 18 to 35 having abstained from voting during the regional elections last year.

PHOTO: France's President Emmanuel Macron winks as he visits the village of Tende hit by heavy flooding in Oct. 2020, southern France, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.
France's President Emmanuel Macron winks as he visits the village of Tende hit by heavy flooding in Oct. 2020, southern France, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. Macron has yet to officially confirm he is running for a second term in the election this spring, but his visit to the French Rivera city of Nice had campaign overtones in a stronghold of Valérie Pécresse, a conservative who is seen by many as his most significant challenger. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole, Pool)
Daniel Cole/AP

"Our generation is disconnected from social issues and presidential elections … and multiple initiatives tried to resolve these problems, but they did not use our generation's codes, like the swipe … So we try to use new codes," Mari, who first got interested in politics during the first lockdown, told ABC News.

Cazcarra, who founded the non-partisan movement "Les Engagés" in 2017 to "give young people a taste for politics," and co-created the NGO A Voté for "the defense of civil rights and democratic progress," is convinced that, even though many French politicians are on social media, education is to blame for young people's lack of interest and involvement in politics today.

"Our belief is that our generation is no less engaged than the previous ones, but it engages differently. … And we are convinced that to reconcile our generation with politics, we must reclaim its codes," Cazcarra said. "We must talk to young people where they are, especially in digital spaces. … there is still a challenge for politicians to truly understand how young people interact on these platforms and what they expect from them. That said, our drive with Elyze was … to explain that the real issue is that of pedagogy."

Since the start of his mandate, French President Emmanuel Macron has demonstrated his mastery of social media, and in recent months has increased his efforts toward connecting with young people. Back in May, in an unprecedented communication exercise, the president shot a video with famous YouTubers McFly and Carlito at the Élysée palace, following a challenge to reach 10 million views on their video about barrier measures against COVID-19.

Last summer, in a counter-offensive after the anti-health pass mobilization, he defended, phone in hand, the COVID-19 vaccination from Fort Brégançon, in a virtual Q&A with young people on TikTok and Instagram, while wearing a T-shirt.

With the rising number of COVID-19 cases amid the omicron surge in France, the presidential candidates have had to adjust their campaigns to follow the recent health guidelines. In the opposition, The Republicans (LR) cancelled a 5,000-person gathering to induct their candidate, Valérie Pécresse, on Dec. 11.

While Elyze's creators hope to soon reach 1 million users, a recent Ifop poll revealed that more than half (59%) of 18- to 30-year-olds plan to not vote in the presidential election.

Thursday, following the wave of concerns on social media about users' experience on the app, 25-year-old Dev, IA and cyber popularizer on Twitch Mathis Hammel, investigated the app's code.

"There's been a few concerns about the algorithm in the app, especially in the rankings of the various candidates," Hammel told ABC News, detailing that "in case of a tie in the scores, Macron would always be put first. So I decided to look into that. And then I continued working on it on Friday because I didn't have all my answers."

On Friday evening, he discovered that there were security issues that could be detrimental to its users and possibly the election, and got in touch with Elyze's developers to help them find and fix the problem.

"I tried to tinker a bit with the database connection and that's basically when I discovered that the database was unsecured and that I could edit or delete parts of any candidate's program," claiming that he "could reverse engineer the application to get connection details from that" because the database wasn't properly configured.

"It's a very crucial time in France, a presidential election period, " Hammel said, so "it would have been quite disastrous for that to fall into the wrong hands." He said, "Thankfully only the part of the database related to candidates was affected by this problem. I did not have access to data about the users."

Contacted by ABC News, Grégoire Cazcarra was quick to say that "zero risk does not exist" in the tech world.

"We solved the flaw in a few hours," Cazcarra said, adding that they have since "added more people to the technical team," "thoroughly checked the operation of the algorithm" and "have not identified any flaw other than those identified and that we have corrected."

Cazcarra also addressed the concerns about the possibility that users' data could be collected and sold.

"The real concern is that many people are legitimately afraid that we are riding for someone. That's kind of the real fundamental problem that irrigates all the other criticisms that can be formulated, because François and I are two students," Cazcarra said.

"None of the data will be sold to a political party, no candidate will be able to buy the application or the data," he added. "The strict neutrality of the project will be respected from A to Z, until the end of the election."

Elyze's co-founder reassured that "if some people are afraid, of course they can choose not to provide information, and the choice is theirs," so "we made the choice not to block their access to the application if they do not provide personal information. We made the choice to make it optional."

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