Obama Campaign Creates Super Digital Database for Political Microtargeting [The Guardian]

The use of "Big Data" marketing tactics to track and target voters raises concerns about the surveillance and manipulation of voters.  Compiling huge, private, and unaccountable political databases that tap into our Facebook, mobile phone and web data to better influence voters should not be tolerated.    A voter should decide what can be collected and used about them--not the parties or special interest group.  As this new Guardian article underscores, both parties must make public how they collect and use information for digital campaigning.  In their rush to exploit the power of digital data to win re-election, political campaigns appear to be ignoring  the ethical and moral implications of using stealth and unaccountable tactics to influence voters.  The public should not tolerate the use of secret digital dossiers about their political and other personal behaviors.  Here are excerpts from a terrific story just published inThe Guardian:

A unified computer database that gathers and refines information on millions of potential voters is at the forefront of campaign technology – and could be the key to an Obama win...For the past nine months a crack team of some of America's top data wonks has occupied an entire floor of the Prudential building in Chicago devising a digital campaign from bottom up. The team draws much of its style and inspiration from the corporate sector, with its driving ambition to create a vote-garnering machine that is smooth, unobtrusive and ruthlessly efficient.

Already more than 100 geeks, some recruited at top-flight university job fairs including Stanford, are assembled in the Prudential drawn from an array of disciplines: statisticians, predictive modellers, data mining experts, mathematicians, software engineers, bloggers, internet advertising experts and online organisers.

At the core is a single beating heart – a unified computer database that gathers and refines information on millions of committed and potential Obama voters. The database will allow staff and volunteers at all levels of the campaign – from the top strategists answering directly to Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina to the lowliest canvasser on the doorsteps of Ohio – to unlock knowledge about individual voters and use it to target personalised messages that they hope will mobilise voters where it counts most.

Every time an individual volunteers to help out – for instance by offering to host a fundraising party for the president – he or she will be asked to log  onto the re-election website with their Facebook credentials. That in turn will engage Facebook Connect, the digital interface that shares a user's personal information with a third party...

The Obama database incorporates Vote Builder, a store of essential information such as age, postal address, occupation and voting history drawn from the voter files of 190 million active voters. It lines up and matches those voter files with data gathered from online interactions with the president's supporters – notably the millions of pieces of information its army of canvassers collected across the nation during the 2008 race, a list of email addresses of supporters that it has amassed and that now stands at about 23 million, as well as the contact information of Obama's 25 million Facebook fans....

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