Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Presidential Campaign and Online Information about You

Companies use your online searching history to personalize the adds that show up in Google and the New York  Times, and now, the Romney and Obama campaigns are doing the same, reports Charles Duhigg of the New York Times on October 13th. According to the article, the campaigns are mining data on individuals, and then are using this data to try and get voters to the polls. In the weeks before the election, millions of voters will get calls from volunteers who will be guided by scripts with detailed information about your life. They will ask questions about how you are planning on spending election day, how you plan on getting to the nearest polling station near you, etc. Later that week, you might find that someone has divulged information about how frequently you or your neighbors have voted in the past. The  thought is (and research backs this up), if you are asked questions about voting, or know that your neighbor or friend is going to go and vote, you might be motivated to also get to the polls on election day.

In the article, both campaigns emphasized their dedication to voter's privacy, but consultants to both campaigns said they had bought demographic data from companies that study details like voter's shopping histories, dating preferences ,and financial problems, put cookies on voters' computers to see what kind of websites they visit, and examine exchanges on social networks to see what issues they care about.

This kind of data mining is not new, just new to presidential campaigns. But it does raise some more interesting ethical questions about if this kind of data should be harvested and used for these kinds of purposes. Is this use better that using it for marketing purposes? Worse? The same? Let us know what you think.

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