Microsoft and Yahoo Sells Personal Data to Political Campaigns So They Can Target Users
Barack Obama was hand-in-hand with “change” four years ago. His message won him $500 million in online donations. And this year, the President’s marketing team hopes to keep its web supporters with “Bigger, better, 2012.”
The new motto is half-right. Online political advertising is bigger than it was in 2008. But now Microsoft and Yahoo are selling users’ personal data, including names, zip codes, and party registration to political campaigns. This information is typically accessed through email, IP addresses, and data cookies. Political media advisers like Jim Pugh, who worked with President Obama’s first presidential campaign, notes that online advertising is considerably less expensive than television, print, and billboards. And consolidating personal information saves them time and money as they target their message to voters. Pugh told The Guardian in February:
Fusing your data into one central store is cheaper, quicker and allows you to be more targeted.
But for the voters who are unaware where their information goes, the privacy breaches are not better. Chris Calabrese lobbies on behalf of online privacy advocates for the American Civil Liberties Union:
Whenever a campaign or other big organization knows much more about you and your habits than you know about them, any voter is open to manipulation.
But others argue that sending off that kind of personal information can actually improve a voter’s online experience. For example, if a voter who supports universal healthcare logs onto Yahoo and notices an advertisement promoting that same cause, it can strike a connection incomparable to any other media marketing form.
This is an immediate advantage. But electoral politics, and its advertising techniques, must focus on exposing each argument of the nation’s major issues. Nobody can – or should, at least – take a position on a topic or support a politician, especially a Commander-in-Chief, without considering the other side.
In Washington, meanwhile, the judgment is still out on whether politicians should be able to access a voter’s private information via the internet. Florida freshman Sen. Marco Rubio told Campaigns and Elections earlier this year:
On the one hand, we don’t want to discourage innovation and discourage providers from going into unique lines of business that have made our lives easier. On the other, I’m not sure that all of our private information like that should be available to people to use for consumer purposes. So it’s an interesting issue from an intellectual perspective and I’m still forming an opinion on it based on information I’m getting.