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While 86% of Americans Oppose Behavioral Targeting of Voters, Campaigns Embrace it

by Bobbi Leal, UMN Law Student, MJLST Articles Editor

Thumbnail-Bobbi-Leal-ii.jpgWith the dramatic 2012 Presidential election behind us, new information about the campaign funds are being released. A recent Huffington Post article outlining the campaign funds allotted toward the mining and analysis of internet data about potential voters. President Obama and Mitt Romney's campaigns spent a combined total of $13 million dollars on this controversial practice.

The Minnesota Journal of Law Science and Technology's recent publication, "It's the Autonomy, Stupid: Political Data-Mining and Voter Privacy in the Information Age," points out that campaigns utilize data mining as a way to more effectively target voters. The mined data includes information gleaned or purchased from both public and private sources. To make use of the internet's information on the individual, the campaigns use algorithms that match the attitudes of voters on specific issues with individual behaviors and tendencies. The individual behaviors they might look at include where you shop, which team you root for, which petitions you sign, who your friends are, and even what mobile device you use.

With a continued decrease in the number of undecided voters, the practice of using digital data to target particular individuals is an effective one. Further, online targeting can reach voters who would normally have no access to traditional campaigning, such as those in remote counties.

A study by the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School of Communications revealed that a large majority of Americans (86%) are against behavioral targeting and tailored advertising for political or other purposes. However, privacy practices in the political context are not regulated like in the commercial sector due to protections afforded by political speech.