Just when you thought that internet privacy was already at its worst, along comes Microsoft and Yahoo, selling your information to politicians for campaign targeting gains.
Politicians want your votes, and with modern technology such as it is, they have found the best way to target you with advertising in order to get those votes.
According to a 2010 article on the Wall Street Journal, there is nothing new to this practice. Its been going on for quite some time.
However, if you have an account with either Microsoft or Yahoo, you should be aware that these companies are selling your sensitive personal data to political campaigns, to help them target specific audiences.
By matching personalized user data given voluntarily to online companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo with other data mined in third-party researches, specialized user profiles are created that link voter history with other interesting items, such as income and retail purchases.
Many Internet users like to use free email accounts with companies like Yahoo. By doing so they willingly give personal information, including their names and addresses and online activity.
All this lovely information is then stored up and sold to the highest bidder in political campaigns.
According to ProPublica, campaign consultant groups like Aristotle, CampaignGrid and Targeted Victory have developed ways to collate this information to the best advantage for their clients.
Andrew Bleeker, the Democratic consultant who managed Internet advertising for U.S. President Obama's presidential campaign, said, "This is one of the best targeting options out there." He also says he is considering using online-offline matching services in order to target voters in the final days of the current campaigns, but does not name his clients.
In recent campaigns, it is believed that politicians have paid very good money to target specific groups by purchasing ads through Yahoo and Microsoft. These ads would reach a certain group of users meeting specific criteria, such as political affiliation and location.
With the gathered personal data, it is possible to create a rough profile of Internet users based on all the available information. Campaigns then purchase niche advertisements that only target specific Internet users, based on what is known about them.
While the companies supplying this information say that names of users are numerically encoded, and that political committees are only attempting to reach out to pools of would-be voters with certain factors in common, including location and age, the practice does raise concern among critics over the future of campaigning.
A good example is the fact that U.S. President Barack Obama sent an email to thousands of supporters this month. He asked them to donate to his re-election campaign and in return, they had a chance to enter a contest to attend a fundraiser with actress Sarah-Jessica Parker.
ProPublica ran an investigation and revealed that Obama's administration had sent out seven different emails to supporters, depending on whether they may have already contributed to the campaign, and based on their age and gender.
Talking to the New York Times, Kenneth M. Goldstein of the Campaign and Media Analysis Group at Kantar Media, said, “Forty years ago, you’d watch the same evening news ad as your Democratic neighbor.”
But today, campaigns can pin-point exactly what type of demographic they want to reach, and can then bombard them with ads.
Chris Calabrese of the American Civil Liberties Union told ProPublica, "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."
Both Democratic and Republican campaigns have admitted to using microtargeting, but none will state their exact methods.
One Obama spokesperson told ProPublica, "We have no interest in telling our opponents our digital strategy. However, this campaign has always and will continue to be an organization that respects and takes care to protect information that people share with us."
As these campaign officials do not necessarily have the exact identities of the targeted audience (only every piece of personal data except that name), this might be correct and the practice could be legal. However, if Americans start complaining that their personal information is being sold to these campaigns, this could possibly change.
As suggested in the above video, if you have a Yahoo or Microsoft email address, it might be a good time to opt out.