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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Campaign Tech and Privacy

Cross-posted from Bessette-Pitney Text:

Previous posts have discussed campaign technology. As the New York Times reports, the Romney and Obama campaigns insist that they respect voter privacy when using this technology.
In interviews, however, consultants to both campaigns said they had bought demographic data from companies that study details like voters’ shopping histories, gambling tendencies, interest in get-rich-quick schemes, dating preferences and financial problems. The campaigns themselves, according to campaign employees, have examined voters’ online exchanges and social networks to see what they care about and whom they know. They have also authorized tests to see if, say, a phone call from a distant cousin or a new friend would be more likely to prompt the urge to cast a ballot.

The campaigns have planted software known as cookies on voters’ computers to see if they frequent evangelical or erotic Web sites for clues to their moral perspectives. Voters who visit religious Web sites might be greeted with religion-friendly messages when they return to or The campaigns’ consultants have run experiments to determine if embarrassing someone for not voting by sending letters to their neighbors or posting their voting histories online is effective.

“I’ve had half-a-dozen conversations with third parties who are wondering if this is the year to start shaming,” said one consultant who works closely with Democratic organizations. “Obama can’t do it. But the ‘super PACs’ are anonymous. They don’t have to put anything on the flier to let the voter know who to blame.”

While the campaigns say they do not buy data that they consider intrusive, the Democratic and Republican National Committees combined have spent at least $13 million this year on data acquisition and related services. The parties have paid companies like AcxiomExperian or Equifax, which are currently subjects of Congressional scrutiny over privacy concerns.

Vendors affiliated with the presidential campaigns or the parties said in interviews that their businesses had bought data from Rapleaf or Intelius, companies that have been sued over alleged privacy or consumer protection violations.