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Yes We Can (Profile You): a Brief Primer On Campaigns and Political Data

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the your-vote-is-one-cell-in-a-database dept.

Privacy 48

An anonymous reader writes "In the Stanford Law Review Online, Professor Daniel Kreiss discusses 'the history of political data, focusing on the recent proliferation in voter data and development of new voter-modeling techniques,' and how 'these data practices undermine privacy and democratic practice, even as they increase participation and voter turnout.' He writes: 'Underlying all of this is a vast data infrastructure that has made targeted online advertising and marketing possible, and has contributed to a revival of field campaigning over the last decade. Online advertising and field campaigning rely on voter modeling based on hundreds of data points culled from surveys, public records, and commercial information sources such as credit histories. This data details the location, demographics, political affiliations, social networks, behavior, and interests of citizens.'"

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You are not a unique as you think you are. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38922723)

The sooner you get over that, the happier you will be. Well wiser anyway. ;-P

Re:You are not a unique as you think you are. (2)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 2 years ago | (#38922743)

Yeah, there was this 16 year old kid who said "you guys better not laugh at me when I get on Ventrillo".
I said... "There are 6 billion people in the world, get over yourself."

Re:You are not a unique as you think you are. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38922963)

Your comment makes you sound like a pedophile.

Re:You are not a unique as you think you are. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923115)

Yeah, there was this 12 yr old kid who said "you guy better not laugh when I get my penis out". I said "Get over yourself, you think this is the first time I've seen a 12 yr olds penis?"

Re:You are not a unique as you think you are. (0)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923787)

Was that really a 12 year old's penis, or was Rob Malda camming again?

Re:You are not a unique as you think you are. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923885)

I thought we recently hit 7 billion.

Re:You are not a unique as you think you are. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38922861)

Is there any point to this comment, other than a very vaguely, kinda sorta on-topic first post?

Guess you prove your point - there are a million folks out there willing to blather anything to have the first post.

Re:You are not a unique as you think you are. (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923665)

Aww is the little baby sad he didn't get there first?

I have a hard time getting too upset about this (4, Interesting)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 2 years ago | (#38922841)

Anyone who wants to predict how I personally will vote in the 2012 election (or any election, really) will have an easy enough time doing so -- because I talk about politics all the time, in person and online, and I don't make any effort to keep my views a secret. This isn't a violation of my privacy, because I chose to put that information out there. As far as using demographic data to decide where to focus campaign efforts, politicians have been doing that as long as there have been elections. The methods they use now may be more sophisticated than they used to be, but it's silly to pretend this is something new and dangerous.

Re:I have a hard time getting too upset about this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38922959)

It could be dangerous if a fascist/communist government ever takes over and then they see that you didn't vote for them.

Re:I have a hard time getting too upset about this (1)

skids (119237) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923209)

I don't make much of a secret of these things, either, but I have to say, none of TFA seems to apply to the people who send me all these "special invitations" to be part of the "Republican Inner Circle." Even if I wasn't a solid registered Democrat it would still be pretty silly to expect anyone in my MA college town to be a mark for these silly scams.

Re:I have a hard time getting too upset about this (1)

yuna49 (905461) | more than 2 years ago | (#38927517)

Like you, I kept wondering why this surprised anyone. It's not like ward bosses and precinct captains didn't know everything about everyone in their neighborhoods. I suspect their information on each voter was a lot more detailed than you could get from the Facebook or Google profiles, too. I'm also sure they didn't spend much time in 1890 trying to get people to the polls who weren't likely to vote, or to vote their way, either.

Let's take the author's three points in order. First, he worries about data breaches, a reasonable concern, of course, but no different than our concerns about credit-rating agencies or any of the numerous other large organizations that maintain profiles on nearly every American. I'm all in favor of strict regulations, and more importantly substantial penalties, to enforce more care in the protection of our personal information. Let's make rules that apply to Experian and political organizations alike.

Second, he argues that privacy encourages anonymous freedom of speech, a claim that probably most of us would agree with. But what institution has provided a better outlet for anonymous speech than the Internet itself? What better examples for the power of speech, both self-identified and anonymous, can we point to besides this week's Komen fiasco and the revolt against SOPA/PIPA? I don't think peoples' reactions to these events would have been diluted had the commentators been more aware of privacy issues.

Third, he talks about "informational asymmetries" that give additional power to wealthier candidates and groups. He points in particular to the Iowa Democratic Party requiring candidates to pay $100K for access to its database in 2008. I wonder how much it would have cost each campaign to assemble the same information on its own. I'm going to guess that the cost could easily have been more than $100K.

So, when all was said and done, the author proposed no specific policies or legislation to address these supposed threats to the integrity of our political system. I'm sure it looks good on his resume that he has an article in the Stanford Law Review, but honestly, this article says nothing we don't already know, and proposes no solutions to address the issues he raises.

Re:I have a hard time getting too upset about this (1)

Qwertie (797303) | more than 2 years ago | (#38928775)

Politicians aren't interested in one data point, you.

The problem is this: rich guys who run for high office can now afford to analyze "location, demographics, political affiliations, social networks, behavior, and interests of citizens" and then tell voters in a specific area and demographic exactly what they want to hear. They can then give different messages to different people, and they can perhaps even risk playing different messages that contradict each other to different audiences.

Since most people have minimal political engagement, they will vote for the guy who is saying exactly what they want to hear, and the majority will fail to notice that the same guy is giving different messages to different groups of people. In contrast, candidates without enormous wealth cannot pull off this trick, and ethical candidates (who take a consistent position on an issue, regardless of their audience) wouldn't be willing to pull off this trick. Therefore, the risk we face here is that only unethical rich people will win important elections.

God says... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38922885)

friends wound commands world shunning rules Insomuch Eagerly
inspiring intend afraid friendship Howsoever directeth
so plucked contradiction solemnity grieve apart workmanship
remaineth robbery lightly tastes minds praised tattlings
Present captious tremble Ver vomited uttereth imitating
detriment diminisheth jealous strongly connects peculiarly
ample ever statement org guilt hearest goaded uncorruptness
affright seeking defended bubblings recognising Lovely

Privacy (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38922937)

It's like when the census chick came by my place.
She wanted to know all this personal information, but then got all offended when I took my clothes off.
I just don't get it.

Profile away (0)

fotbr (855184) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923131)

Here, I'll help get you started.

I get my most of my news from Europe, specifically the UK and Germany, and the rest of my news from Japan. Our media in the US is a wasteland that isn't worth reading, and hasn't been for at least the last 20 years.

I read slashdot for the comments, prefer the BSD license over GPL, and prefer OSX and *BSD over Windows and Linux. I avoid computers whenever I can, even though I make a living dealing with them.

I watch Formula 1, love sailing, and follow most of the major sailing races. I don't watch movies, or television other than F1. I prefer J-Pop and EDM over anything that gets played on the radio in the US.

I don't care which, if any, god(s) you worship, but would prefer you keep it to yourself and don't try to change my beliefs (exactly what they are or aren't, you don't need to know).

I don't care about climate change, warming or cooling, man-made or natural, because I don't think humankind as a whole is worth saving. Eventually, we'll kill the human race off anyway. Life will go on in some form, somewhere, even if it's reduced to single-celled organisms and has to evolve all over again.

Also, I absolutely hate career politicians of every stripe, and always have. There's a 99.9% chance I won't vote for any of you assholes who make a career in politics. I don't think I'm all that unique, but I hope that helps you figure out which box I fit in.

Re:Profile away (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923167)

The 'Get off my lawn' box.

Re:Profile away (1)

hsjserver (1826682) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923257)

You fall under the "we don't give a shit because he doesn't vote and never will" category. The most useful information they can acquire is the little bit that tells them if you're for my guy, and I can get you to show up to vote. Past that, it doesn't matter all that much.

Re:Profile away (1)

fotbr (855184) | more than 2 years ago | (#38931973)

Actually, I vote in every election, and have since I turned 18 and could. I vote on the local ballot issues, since they're the only things that directly affect me.

Re:Profile away (1)

hsjserver (1826682) | more than 2 years ago | (#38948585)

Unless you pay no State or Federal taxes, you're quite wrong about that.

Re:Profile away (1)

MetaDragon (2098352) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923303)

Good to know that there are other rational people on slashdot besides myself. Lately I'd begun to think they'd all left.

Re:Profile away (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38931985)

Apparently they haven't left, they've just been moderated down as "trolls".

Re:Profile away (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923359)

Check out []

It way not be "fair and balanced" like the BBC or any of the other european public service behemoths, but it is a balance against any of the other socalled news produced in the US of A.

Re:Profile away (1)

unitron (5733) | more than 2 years ago | (#38935625)

But how can we oppress and ridicule you for your beliefs if we don't know what they are?

Just one more indication... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923255)

...that we have the best government that money can buy.

What if voting was compulsory? (2)

Maclir (33773) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923307)

Like in Australia - every person eligible to vote has to enrol and vote. Maybe that would help drown out the extremists?

Re:What if voting was compulsory? (1)

Shavano (2541114) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923613)

If a person doesn't take an interest in politics and inform himself about what the issues are that distinguish between the candidates, his opinion is of no value.

You might as well give him a coin to flip when he goes in the voting booth.

Re:What if voting was compulsory? (2)

Salgak1 (20136) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923643)

. . .after which, someone will discover a conspiracy where someone is handing out rigged coins for voter coin flips.

My solution: EVERY ballot has a "none of the above" choice. If NOTA gets more than a given percentage (say, 20-30%), ALL the candidates lose, and new candidates would have to run. . .

Re:What if voting was compulsory? (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923693)

And who governs in the meantime? Don't say "nobody", because the government has some essential functions and we can't just shut down the country every time we don't like the candidates. And if the answer is "whoever is currently in power", then voting "none of the above" is essentially a vote for the incumbent.

Re:What if voting was compulsory? (1)

cvtan (752695) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923703)

That means there is a chance that all that campaigning will have to be inflicted on the public AGAIN? Forget it.

Re:What if voting was compulsory? (1)

Salgak1 (20136) | more than 2 years ago | (#38926583)

Well, the point being, it would incentivize politics to stop running such utter douchenozzles as candidates. . .

Re:What if voting was compulsory? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38924385)

Minor correction: everyone has to turn up, sign off, do "something" to the voting form, and put it in a box. It's up to the individual voter to select whether "something" == "cast a valid vote" or "draw a picture of a pony". It's a good system IMHO: people who really do not want to vote don't have to, but everyone is at least forced to engage to some degree.

Re:What if voting was compulsory? (1)

bky1701 (979071) | more than 2 years ago | (#38924933)

Extremists - yes. Knowledgeable voters more likely to choose a good candidate than a random number generator - also yes.

I've heard too many stories about pre-vote drinking to take the idea of compulsory voting seriously. That and the fact that the Australian government seems to be one of the most corrupt and extreme western democracies, with their constant efforts at censorship. No, the solution to political problems has to not be "drown out" anyone with noise, but rather make it so the outcome is not extreme OR random.

Re:What if voting was compulsory? (1)

larys (2559815) | more than 2 years ago | (#38925005)

That would be nice. I would be concerned over people who don't want to vote feeling bothered with the obligation and intentionally picking people they feel may damage the system -- as a sort of immature show of revenge. I actually know a person (unfortunately) who refuses to vote who would likely do this. Another concern would be, if these people don't want to vote or don't care, what will their choices then be? Simply because they're obligated doesn't mean they'll be informed or make an informed or logical decision. They may just end up voting for the candidate whose name they heard the most often (psychologically, familiarity leads to the increased likelihood that someone will grow to like something/someone). They may pick someone based on who's commercials they saw on tv more often. Either of these results would make election more dependent upon who has more money to buy commercials and radio air time. Considering that more often than not, it's the rich (the 1% minority) that gets elected for presidency far more often than any of the greater population, this would (hypothetically) just make things worse. Instead, I wish there were a way to push people to care -- and not just to care but to be informed (oh, look, a flying pig). That being said, in my mind, laziness and stupidity are probably the largest epidemics to ever exist. And now to the realm of science and medicine: find a cure! Quickly! Before we destroy ourselves...more... *sigh*

Re:What if voting was compulsory? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38925373)

It isn't compulsory to vote; it's compulsory to enroll and attend a polling station. After having your name ticked off, you can then abstain or lodge an informal vote (intentionally or otherwise).

Voting is therefore not compulsory in Australia, it's compulsory to attend a polling station. The difference is those who otherwise would not have attended aren't automatically assumed to have abstained, you have to make a conscious effort to do so.

Re:What if voting was compulsory? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38925513)

Just a slight clarification: in Australia, it isn't compulsory to vote. It is compulsory to turn up at the voting place. If you don't think you're informed about this issues, you can just tick your name off the list and walk away without voting.

The purpose of this system is to make sure that the effort of getting to the voting place is never a disincentive to voting. Everyone has a chance to vote, with as little additional effort (relative to what they're required to do) as possible.

Democracy (2)

mynamestolen (2566945) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923469)

Coupled with the fact that the USA and Canada don't have democracy (proportional voting + multimember electorates), but have FPP instead, things don't look so rosy.

Re:Democracy (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923507)

This claim about democracies always bothers me, because it rests on the fallacious notion that there is only one kind of democracy.

Besides, look at Israel, which has an electoral system built on all the great post-war innovations. What happened? Fringe parties end up becoming kingmakers and swinging governments in directions in many cases directly opposed to the views of the majority. Do you consider that a democracy?

Or what about many European nations, like Germany, where parties form what amount to permanent coalitions, basically super-parties that may split up during elections, but re-coalesce afterwards. How exactly is this any different than the results one might get from a FPTP election?

While I agree electoral reform is important, I find your claim idiotic, and your idea that somehow your private definition of "democracy" does in fact deliver the goods highly questionable.

Re:Democracy (1)

mynamestolen (2566945) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923563)

back to school for you. Do you even know what FPP is? It's the system that got Hitler into power. We first need to define terms. Do you have a better defn of democracy, other than the relativist fallacy?

Re:Democracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38924181)

Er, could you expand the TLA, please? Sorry, but I don't know what FPP stands for in this context.

Re:Democracy (3, Informative)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#38924421)

You know, I always love it when some fucking retard tries to lecture me about how Hitler came to power. The Nazis did not have a plurality of seats in the Reichstag. The reason Hitler came to power is because von Papen told Hindenburg that Hitler could be controlled, and thus convinced the ailing (and increasingly senile) President to name Hitler Chancellor. Hitler wasn't elected to that position because he did not command a majority in the Reichstag.

Maybe you need to learn something about how parliaments work, fucktard.

Re:Democracy (1)

mynamestolen (2566945) | more than 2 years ago | (#38929479)

Primary school maths. You still show no evidence of understanding FPP. 5 candidates put themselves up for election. They get A 21% B 20% C 20% D 20% E 19% Everyone who doesn't vote for A, puts A last - that's 79% (and for obvious reasons I'll refrain from calling you names) Do you seriously think electing A is democratic by any reasonable definition?

Re:Democracy (1)

micheas (231635) | more than 2 years ago | (#38939745)

My estimates are that first past the post are mostly partisan contests (in the US). Most non-partisan races are true run off elections that tend to produce drastically different results than first past the post.

Re:Democracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38930241)

Actually, the Nazis did have a plurality of seats in the Reichstag when Hitler was made Chancellor, after getting just under a third of the votes in the November 1932 election [] . Also, Germany did not have FPP in those days: they had party-list proportional representation.

mod do3n (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38924523)

and executes a before bplaying to operating systems,

CiviCRM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38925731)

Do you folks know much about CiviCRM? []

It is an amazingly powerful free, open-source tool not unlike It works well with both Drupal and Joomla, and in fact evolved from Howard Dean's DeanSpace. Doonesbury even made fun of it, back in the day. It really is a great tool for non-nefarious purposes. And also...

You can visit that link, and log into an actual live back-end demo, with you as the admin. This gives you a chance to see how it works and what is there. AFAIK, when Bob Smith wants to run for Senate and starts forming an organisation, which means a CRM-type telephone directory plus donor-tracking and accounting. The Bob Smith Campaign Professionals already know about CiviCRM. I heard Hillary used it for her Presidential campaign to give you an idea. Lots of folks running for office use CiviCRM, but not all of course. I'd like to know what the free open-source alternatives are.

CiviCRM has fields to store anything and everything the Republicans/Democrats want to keep track of. You can keep track of Bob's relations like who his sister is. If she died already. How much Bob has donated money for, maybe he's a subscription member, and what I find most-interesting is they have fields to keep track of most-pressing issues like gun-rights or birth-control.

They Know, and they work hard to keep track.

Re:CiviCRM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38925759)

...and Gmaps too. They've got satellite views of your backyard by using CiviCRM, on their mobile device, if they want it.

Much ado about nothing and Poor Scholarship. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38931553)

This is kind of fear mongering "sky is falling" piece that led to SOPA, and is forever being foisted upon us by the left to demonize the right. (You'll note that Obama gets off the hook, while the Republicans are evil for doing more or less the same thing.)

Beyond that, there's a basic intellectual dishonesty and laziness in this piece: It's called "Zip Codes." Virtually every single word, reference and assertion in this piece could have been made about the introduction of zip codes, where it became possible to target specific groups of people, with specific incomes, in specific neighborhoods, and correlate it even more specifically with magazine subscriptions, tax rolls, etc.

Is what this terribly naive professor complaining about in any way different than a politician buying ads in Hispanic publications, religious newspapers, talk radio, or even giving a pro-business speech at the local Rotary Club? Or (in the very old days) showing up at a Union hiring hall to preach fire and brimstone against the corporations who were also funding your campaign? Politicians have always been able to target (and tailor) their messages to specific audiences.

If anything, I'd argue that with the internet, and cell phones, where so many of our eyes are looking at (or recording) many things, it's more difficult than ever to make some incendiary claim and believe it's going to go unnoticed, and get by under the radar. (See: Obama, Barack, "they cling to their guns and religion" targeted specifically at an uber-liberal upper class group of San Francisco donors. We weren't supposed to hear about that, but we did.)

In short, this is poor scholarship that doesn't stand up to any serious vetting. But it's easier to "blame the internet" to gin up all sorts of "woe is me, it's the end of civilization" nonsense.

If I were grading this, I'd give him an F.

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