Sixteen U.S. representatives write to Steven Walther, the Chairman of the Federal Election Commission for transparency in digital advertising in elections. They write, “Social media platforms offer the ability to target millions of users based upon a wealth of highly-detailed information.”
Data & Elections is a Tactical Technology Collective research project on how personal data is being used globally for formal and informal political processes.
Recent developments in digital technologies, together with the collection of personal data, have given rise to a new political modus operandi. Today, political groups around the globe are using tools from modern statistics and psychology to advance their ideologies, to promote their candidates, and to influence voters. Because political entities are amassing some of the most exhaustive databases of personal information on the electorate, they are evolving into intelligence-gathering operations of their own. The data-centric business model that has transformed countless other domains has become an inextricable part of modern-day politicking. We aim to explore what political entities are using personal data, in what manner, and ultimately what impact these changes have on the dignity of democratic process.
Ahead of the German Federal Elections on Sunday 24 September, Tactical Tech, in research partnership…
The Department of Justice in the United States has issued a warrant for 1.3 million IP addresses, which can be mapped to physical addresses, of individuals who visited a Trump inauguration protest website. Julia Carrie Wong and Olivia Solon of The Guardian report that DreamHost, the website’s hosting company, has pushed back against this warrant with help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Bloomberg’s Nacha Cattan reports that Cambridge Analytica is looking to the upcoming July 2018 presidential election in Mexico in search of a new candidate to get support. Cattan reports that CA “is hoping to use data mined from Pig.gi (a phone app in Mexico and Colombia that gives 200,000 active users free service in exchange for watching ads, reading stories and taking surveys) to help a candidate in Mexico’s July 2018 presidential election, and several political parties have already expressed interest, according to both companies.”
Privacy International’s Clair Lauterbach and Frederike Kaltheuner report on the quiet re-hiring of Cambridge Analytica by incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee Alliance for the 2017 Kenyan Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. The article goes on to highlight ethical questions and potentially dangerous implications of an internationally renown data analytics company working in a context where mere perceptions of manipulations of elections can have severe consequences.
Data & Activism is a Tactical Technology Collective applied research project examining the impact of data collection and profiling on human rights defenders, activists and networks.
Whether a non-governmental organisation or a human rights defender, in today’s society, our data is collected, stored and analysed every step of the way. From visa applications to social media profiles, from attending a conference to meal choices on a flight, sharing a photo from a protest or simply walking past a CCTV camera – we are rendered into data which is quantified, cross referenced and compiled to form profiles about us as individuals and social graphs about us as groups.
Within the blurred lines between corporations and governments; and the elevated threats against the work of human rights defenders in many countries; these profiles take a different dimension beyond corporate interests, and can become at times, the center of the threat model. Under this project we aim to trace how this process happens, raise awareness on its different implications; and – where possible – explore protection strategies and creative responses.
From Campaigns & Elections, this article explores how Venture Capitalists in Silicon Valley regard funding of partisan and non-partisan political campaigning firms. Though some investments have been made into non-partisan firms, partisan campaign tech companies still dominate the political start-up scene.
Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports on a $1M campaign of targeted ads launched by a group closely aligned with the White House. The group, America First, is condemning a Republican Senator who has not expressed support for the GOP’s proposed healthcare reform. The article begs the question of how personal information is used not only for acquiring power but also for maintaining it.
Maeve McClenaghan, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Issie Lapowsky, Wired
This Wired article documents Cambridge Analytica’s hiring of the US Republican National Committee’s former chief technology officer, as well as former Silicon Valley engineer, Darren Bolding following the 2016 US election.
Voter databases, micro-targeting, and data protection law: can political parties campaign in Europe as they do in North America?
Colin J. Bennett, International Data Privacy Law (2016) 6 (4)
This article argues that many of the trends observed in North America will likely enter the politics of major European countries; indeed there are already signals that this is happening.
Samuel C. Woolley, First Monday, Volume 21, 4, April 2016
Reiner Burger and Mona Jaeger, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
The article (in German) highlights the new geo-location based app being used by Germany’s Christian Democratic Party to target voters in the run-up to the federal election 2017.
Jim Dowson, a proponent of both Scottish independence and Vladimir Putin, plans to employ his media outfits based in Britain, Hungary, and Serbia to advance independence efforts, reports Henry McDonald of The Guardian.
Panagiotis T. Metaxas, Eni Mustafaraj, Science, 26 Oct 2012: Vol. 338, Issue 6106
This article focuses on active manipulation of social media, which is particularly relevant during election campaigns.
In this op-ed published five days before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, digital campaign strategist Jim Messina writes on the relative merits of Trump and Clinton’s data capabilities and expresses his preference for local polls over national ones, which are purportedly too broad to meaningfully inform campaign strategy.
Adam Pasick and Tim Fernholz report on Quartz how individuals like Eric Schmidt can circumvent caps on individual political donations via investments in companies that provide in-demand services to campaigns.
The Guardian’s Robert Booth documents Facebook’s hiring of former political aides to cater to political campaigns hoping to win elections and to facilitate use of Facebook’s resources in political affairs.
Swati Chaturvedi’s book sheds light on digital tactics that the Bharatiya Janata Party has employed to acquire political power. (Pages 47 – 77 are particularly relevant to our work.)
Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica, describes how psychographics can be leveraged in political campaigns in this YouTube talk recorded by Concordia.
Panagiotis T. Metaxas, Eni Mustafaraj, Dani Gayo-Avello (2011) IEEE Third International Conference on Privacy, Security, Risk and Trust and 2011 IEEE Third International Conference on Social Computing
The authors of this paper aim to test the predictive power of social media metrics against several Senate races of the two recent US Congressional elections and propose a set of standards that any theory aiming to predict elections (or other social events) using social media should follow.
Led by political correspondent Michael Crick, an investigative team at Channel 4 spearheaded an investigation into campaign finance spending that has prompted the Crown Prosecution Service to consider charging over 30 people, including members of Parliament, and resulted in a fine of £70,000 for the Tory Party.
Building on research by Facebook, Jon Keegan and others at the Wall Street Journal built a visualization demonstrating how liberal and conservative information diets on Facebook differ for a variety of hot-button American political issues.
A Review of the Data Broker Industry: Collection, Use, and Sale of Consumer Data for Marketing Purposes
Facebook researchers Eytan Bakshy, Solomon Messing, and Lada Adamic analyzed how 10 million US-based Facebook users engaged with content in their newsfeed over six months. All users in the study had self-identified their political views, enabling researchers to classify links on the political spectrum (from “very liberal” to “very conservative”) based on which users engaged with what content. This, in turn, allowed researchers to study the political heterogeneity of content consumed by Facebook users.
Eytan Bakshy et al. (2015), Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa1160
Federal Trade Commission, May 2014
The report finds that data brokers collect and store billions of data elements covering nearly every U.S. consumer. Just one of the data brokers studied holds information on more than 1.4 billion consumer transactions and 700 billion data elements and another adds more than 3 billion new data points to its database each month. The report proposes measures to rectify the lack of transparency in data broker industry practices.
This piece by Jody Avirgan from FiveThirtyEight and the accompanying two-part podcast series trace the collection and application of data in American political campaigning starting from the 1890s. Contrary to popular belief, the 2008 Obama campaign was not the first to adopt a data-focused campaigning strategy.
The Dark Side of Digital Politics: Understanding the Algorithmic Manufacturing of Consent and the Hindering of Online Dissidence
Emiliano Treré, IDS Bulletin, [S.l.], v. 47, n. 1, jan. 2016. ISSN 1759-5436
This article demonstrates that digital tools have been successfully deployed by Mexican parties and governments in order to manufacture consent, sabotage dissidence, threaten activists, and gather personal data without citizens’ agreement.
New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer explains the role of Robert Mercer and the story behind Cambridge Analytica in the context of the 2016 American presidential election. As part of this piece, she interviewed Michal Kosinski, an academic psychologist whose research was adapted by Cambridge Analytica, who told her that “there’s a thin line between convincing people and manipulating them.”
Dan O’Sullivan of UpGuard details the security breach that left information on 198 million American voters unprotected on an Amazon server.
Anstead, Nick (2017), The International Journal of Press/Politics. ISSN 1940-1612
Matea Gold of The Washington Post writes on the first-known company born out of the Trump campaign. An email marketing firm, Campaign Inbox is one of many examples of political campaigns spawning new enterprises.
This resource, published by Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, describes the country’s 2009 experiment with electronic voter registration, later deemed a success. In 2012, the Commission rolled out a biometric voter registration nationwide.
London School of Economics Media Policy Project
This publication by Wolfie Christl of Cracked Labs sheds light on how companies gather, exchange, and analyze personal data.
Carole Cadwalladr, The Guardian
Carole Cadwalladr investigates the data firms, financial flow, and personalities involved in the Leave camp of the UK’s EU referendum.
January 2016 article by Harry Davies and Danny Yadron (The Guardian) on how Facebook is becoming an essential platform for digital campaigning.
Josh Richman, The Mercury News
In the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential campaign, Josh Richman examines digital “micro-targeting” tools available to candidates and their campaigns in the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential campaign.