Advertising, Barack Obama, Election 2012, Politics, Privacy, Technology

How Obama and Romney Both Rock Stalk the Vote

Seeing as half the Eastern seaboard is underwater or in the dark or throwing a massive party, perhaps the only other topic Americans care about right now is — you guessed it — next week’s presidential election.

Most of us know how granular the campaigning has become these last few weeks, as the candidates vie for the heart and mind of the ever elusive swing voter. But for some time now, both Mitt Romney and President Obama have taken advantage of another highly detailed, technical voter research strategy. They dig up electronic information about voters using data-mining techniques pioneered by everyone’s favorite American institutions: online retailers.

Yep. Because the process voting for president is just the same as deciding what new XBox game to buy…

The New York Times explains how one way American politics is starting to resemble a weird mash-up of Big Brother and…

Over the month of September, Evidon [a company that helps businesses and consumers monitor and control third-party tracking software] identified 76 different tracking programs on — two more trackers than it found on Best Buy’s Web site — compared with 53 in May. It found 40 different trackers on last month, compared with 25 in May.

The report provides a rare glimpse into the number of third-party tracking programs that are operating on the campaign Web sites — as many as or more than on some of the most popular retailers’ sites.

The campaigns directly hire some companies, like ad agencies or data management firms, that marry information collected about voters on a campaign site with data about them from other sources. But these entities, in turn, may bring their own software partners to the sites to perform data-mining activities like retargeting voters or tracking the political links they share with their social networks.

So, the guys who are/will be/may be running our country are accumulating a lot of info about the products we buy, the friends we have, and everything else we do online — ok, so everything we do. But they swear, it’s only to help get them elected!

IT-Lex explains that it’s not the end of the world, because the data is supposedly only presented in aggregate form. It’s still not encouraging to hear, especially when you remember that some corporations have made the same same claims, which turned out to be untrue:

So again, people’s browsing habits are being stored somewhere, along with their political beliefs. All the tracking companies that spoke to the Times insisted that information was anonymous, or aggregated, or not sold to third parties, but they would say that, wouldn’t they? Privacy advocates are concerned that these third-party advertisers have well-developed profiles of individuals, and only the advertisers’ word that these profiles are anonymous.

In short, this raises all the same privacy concerns people have about normal companies, like shady-ass Target. These are the same concerns that led to increasingly popular — and contentious — web browser add-ons like Do Not Track Plus that try and limit access to consumer browsing data. It’s terrible great to see which dog our top politicians picked in this fight.

Romney has said he wanted to run America like a business. By treating taxpayers like potential customers instead of constituents, I guess that’s one promise he plans to keep. And just like those awesome unmanned drone strikes, Obama is on board too.

Political Parties Are Tracking Your Web Surfing [IT-Lex]
Tracking Voters’ Clicks Online to Try to Sway Them [New York Times]

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