Election 2012

Political Campaigns Emulate Your Stalker Ex in Search of Votes

|

Fatal Attraction

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a creepy-licious story about how the Obama and Romney campaigns are gobbling up personal data about voters as part of an effort to make targeted appeals for support — and even to shame people into going to the polls. The information they're acquiring isn't just mile-high data of the sort that's been used in the past to maximize the use of resources on targets of opportunity; it includes details about purchases, friends and family and Web-surfing habits. Yes, the campaigns want to know everything about you so they can make as personal — and really well-informed — an appeal as possible.

From the Times:

In the weeks before Election Day, millions of voters will hear from callers with surprisingly detailed knowledge of their lives. These callers — friends of friends or long-lost work colleagues — will identify themselves as volunteers for the campaigns or independent political groups.

The callers will be guided by scripts and call lists compiled by people — or computers — with access to details like whether voters may have visited pornography Web sites, have homes in foreclosure, are more prone to drink Michelob Ultra than Corona or have gay friends or enjoy expensive vacations.

Where are they getting this information? Much of it is already available, at least in fragmentary form, for a price.

[C]onsultants to both campaigns said they had bought demographic data from companies that study details like voters' shopping histories, gambling tendencies, interest in get-rich-quick schemes, dating preferences and financial problems. The campaigns themselves, according to campaign employees, have examined voters' online exchanges and social networks to see what they care about and whom they know. They have also authorized tests to see if, say, a phone call from a distant cousin or a new friend would be more likely to prompt the urge to cast a ballot.

For social network data, the campaigns seem to be accessing the connections of volunteers who log into their own accounts and offer up their friends and loved ones for the glory of the cause. Data-mining software makes it an easy task.

The campaigns are getting even more technical and intrusive than that, however. They're also looking into Internet habits in a way that may convince you to set your browser security to "cloaking device."

The campaigns have planted software known as cookies on voters' computers to see if they frequent evangelical or erotic Web sites for clues to their moral perspectives. Voters who visit religious Web sites might be greeted with religion-friendly messages when they return to mittromney.com or barackobama.com. The campaigns' consultants have run experiments to determine if embarrassing someone for not voting by sending letters to their neighbors or posting their voting histories online is effective.

The mention of shaming voters into casting ballots is confined here to voting habits. That is, the campaigns may start calling out people they see as potential supporters who have been less-than-diligent in exercising that all-important franchise. But the danger of other sorts of political arm-twisting, implicit or explicit, seems fairly … impressive with all of that data in hand.

The tactic would also seem to have huge potential for blowback. A political party or campaign may be able compile all sorts of embarrassing data on voters, and even wield it to drive people to take an active role, at least so far as voting goes. But those people, protected by the still-secret (for now) ballot, could well be expected to punish their tormenters.

That stalker ex can make your life hell, for a while. But doesn't it always come at the price of really pissing you off?

Advertisement

NEXT: Depp Looks to Publishing

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. But doesn’t it always come at the price of really pissing you off?

    That was my first thought. If some long-lost colleague or friend-of-friend calls me, the response from me will make R. Lee Ermey blush.

    1. I haven’t received any calls (I only have a mobile phone, so I get extremely few cold calls), but yeah, if someone called me with an exhortation to vote, they would get the response I give to incoming calls from 800 numbers: “Fuck off.”

      1. Everyone who knows me well enough to have my cell number, knows Im voting for Johnson.

      2. My response to cold-callers, be they male or female, is to ask them what they are wearing in a very suggestive voice. And if they nervously laugh or continue with their script I ask, “no really, what are you wearing.”

        1. Excellent.

          1. I’m stealing this idea.

      3. That would explain why the Obama camp had Olivia Wilde call me (will not even consider entertaining the possibility it was a recording). It really would have been the best chance they had of persuading me.

        1. It might be fun to make a recording of someone having one-sided phone sex with a political robocall. Writing it so the robocall seemed to be responding appropriately would be fun.

    2. I would renounce members of my own family if they pulled shit like this and they know it.

  2. Every step you take, every vote you fake, I’ll be watching you.

    1. I only track your website statistics because I love you so much.

  3. or erotic Web sites for clues to their moral perspectives

    Warty?

    1. “The campaigns have planted software known as cookies on voters’ computers to see if they frequent evangelical or erotic Web sites for clues to their moral perspectives. Voters who visit religious Web sites might be greeted with religion-friendly messages when they return to mittromney.com or barackobama.com.”

      So what would Warty’s greeting be?

      Salaam Aleykum, O whip wielding one??

      1. “Greetings exalted master of the rape dungeon.”

  4. The campaigns have planted software known as cookies on voters’ computers to see if they frequent evangelical or erotic Web sites for clues to their moral perspectives. Voters who visit religious Web sites might be greeted with religion-friendly messages when they return to mittromney.com or barackobama.com.

    So if I went to Obama or Romney’s campaign website, I would be greeted with naked pictures of the candidates?

    1. Damn, Hugh, get a life. Why in the fuck would anyone want to see either of these losers naked?

      1. Rule 34 cares nothing about your protestations.

        1. Damn, there have been a lot of shout outs to Rule 34 today.

          1. It is the one true constant in this sad and broken world.

            1. I tested ‘progressive Flo naked’ in Google images and have yet to come up with anything. However, here is decent out of character pic of the actress it popped up. I likey.

              http://i33.tinypic.com/9uy8ec.jpg

              1. Update:

                And I found one!

                http://www.celebjihad.com/cele…..ials-naked

                1. You should have had faith in the only God you will ever know.

              2. Yeah, it’s really just the makeup and stupid character that makes her unattractive.

  5. Virginia must be hotly contested. I get two or three identical robocalls every day.

    1. Do you think this sort of invasive begging/ manipulation might be making people more displeased with the major parties? I don’t live in a swing state so I don’t get any of this.

  6. Near the beginning of the whole presidential race, when it was just becoming clear that Mitt was the nominee, I was considering voting for him because Obama has been awful and Mitt doesn’t seem as hostile to buisness. Since then i’ve watched this fight get dirtier and dirtier, and watched Mitt reveal more of his policy Ideas. I decided against voting for Mitt a few months ago, but now after watching both major parties go all out in the dirty tricks and the tribal political warfare I’m far too disgusted with the candidates and the parties to even contemplate who might be the lesser evil.

    1. Well, there is an alternative…Gary somebodyoranother?

      1. I think it’s Jackson. Gary Jackson

        1. Shirley Jackson. Sheesh!

          1. I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.

        1. Dabney Coleman is running for president?!?

          1. He’d be a great candidate, seeing as a large part of the presidency is cloak and dagger secret shit anymore.

            1. But he’d only work 9 to 5.

              1. What a way to make a livin’!

              2. What more national defense experience do you need than running NORAD and preventing a nuclear war. Sure maybe that kid suggesting tic-tac-toe helped, but it was on his watch.

              3. He’s tough enough to star a bear in the eyes and take it down with his trusty rifle.

      2. I tried to link to a picture of Gary Busey but it kept getting flagged as spam.

        1. Motorcycle accidents will do that to a brain.

    2. Write in “Batman.” He’s rich, principled, and strongly motivated by the rule of law.

      1. But who are Bruce Wayne’s slate of electors?

        1. Who cares about Bruce Wayne? He’s just some billionaire playboy trying to drink away his dad’s fortune.

      2. Just flip a coin. Let chance decide your vote.

        1. Calm down, Harvey.

  7. The campaigns’ consultants have run experiments to determine if embarrassing someone for not voting by sending letters to their neighbors or posting their voting histories online is effective.

    This is disturbing.

    1. If you’re not with us, you’re against us!

      1. Only a Sith deals in absolutes!

    2. How do they have the voting histories of secret ballot votes?

      1. I think they mean record of who voted and who didn’t.

        1. Ok, that makes more sense. Still, who is going to be embarrassed? College progressives when their friends realize they’re not sticking it to the man?

      2. WHO you vote for is secret. WHETHER you vote is not.

        1. But for people who vote in a primary, they know that too.

      3. They know whether or not you voted, not who you voted for.

        1. But without photo ID, how do they know it was really me?

        2. I would actually be curious to find out if I voted in some elections that I didn’t vote in…

    3. Perpetual campaigns that want to embarrass people into voting for them by revealing personal information. Yup, that’s where we’re at at this point. Think about that.

    4. Invasive serveilance, emotional manipulation, using people’s own communities to enforce conformity… So deliciously authoriterian.

      If this doesn’t turn people into liberterians, I don’t know what will.

      1. Nothing is an option, right?

      2. Maybe substituting E’s for A’s in random words will help.

      3. Look. How are you going to extract free shit from your neighbors if your candidate can’t find out about their browsing habits?

    5. Shame? Do people still even have that?

      1. Shame on you for asking!

        Uh, did that work?

      2. Yes. It is what prevents most people from going into politics.

  8. The campaigns are getting even more technical and intrusive than that, however. They’re also looking into Internet habits in a way that may convince you to set your browser security to “cloaking device.”

    Tip for the technically challenged:

    Quite “liking” everything you see on the internet, ie, browsing the internet while “logged into your facebook account”.

      1. It’ this thing where you create a fake account with a joke picture so you can look at other people’s personal details.

        Oh, and if she has a picture of her cat as her profile photo, she gained 50lbs.

        1. Same applies if they have a picture of their child instead of their own. Bloater.

        2. I believe creating a fake Facebook account is now a federal crime. Expect a no-knock raid in 3…2…1…

          1. Only if you are a meanie and they can’t get you any other way.

  9. I’m a no-party registered voter in a swing state. How is it that I have only gotten one in-person canvaser and no calls at this point? I have hardly had an opportunity to get anyone’s dander up! I demand dander!

    1. You work during the day and you only have a cell phone?

    2. Start wearing a “Voting is for suckers” t-shirt around town.

      1. The deadline to register to vote was yesterday, so I don’t get to rile up the registration nazis anymore. 🙁

        One of them asked if I was registered and I said “Unfortunately, yes”. She didn’t quite know what to make of that.

        1. I regularly get to tell issue naggers outside of Trader Joe’s that I’m not registered.

          I’ve stopped going there for food, since I can sustain myself entirely on their indignation now.

          1. I have perfected the “if you pester me they will find your body in a dumpster” look. Works pretty well on the more lucid hobos too.

        2. I felt kinda bad yesterday, I got home and walked out of my garage to check the mail, and my neighbor told me someone was at my door. I was getting ready to tear into some electioneering asshole, but it turned out to be the window guy from Home Depot showing up early to measure.

    3. The front door pit trap with the live tiger in it is too obvious?

    4. Maybe they are just not that into you Kristen?

    5. Same here. I get a fair bit of junk mail from both parties, but that’s it.

    6. I don’t know. You are lucky. I’m in a similar situation and I get non-stop surveys and canvassing calls. It helps that our long term governor is not running this year too, I guess. I do enjoy telling the dicks who call that there is no way I’m voting for either of those guys.

  10. If they sent me campaign literature with a picture of my neighborhood with my house circled, now THAT would piss me off.

    1. That amused me – not everyone lives at their mailing address.

      1. I laughed when it said “COLUMBUS PUBLIC LIBRARY we know where you live!”

    2. Sort of like what Reason did that one time?

      1. Goodness, now that you point it out, there is some similarity!

  11. The campaigns’ consultants have run experiments to determine if embarrassing someone for not voting by sending letters to their neighbors or posting their voting histories online is effective.

    Trial email for Obama campaign:

    Dear so-and-so: Michelle and I understand that you missed out on a chance to vote for Hope and Change in 2008. We are very disappointed in you and trust you’ll be on the right side of history this time around. Forward, not back!

    –Barack Obama

  12. The campaigns have planted software known as cookies on voters’ computers to see if they frequent evangelical or erotic Web sites for clues to their moral perspectives.

    YOU FAIL COMPUTER SCIENCE FOREVER!

    1. Technically a cookie can contain software in its value.

      1. Technically, I could put software in this comment box. It’s unlikely to ever get executed. Cookies are data, not software. They’re also not “planted” on machines. They also don’t magically tell someone what your RL identity is.

    2. Plus the idea of “planting cookies on voter computers” is ridiculous to begin with. You have to voluntarily visit the campaign website to get the cookie.

      I haven’t seen a message on Mitt Romney’s site referencing lesbian Bushmen yet, so I’m probably safe.

  13. My wife donates to political campaigns. They are the worst. Any person who would get on their mailing list is nuts, which admittedly my wife is in some ways. If you are really lonely and want to feel important, send $50 to the congress critter or presidential candidate of your choice.

    1. I gave Johnson some money (during the primaries), specified that I didn’t want any calls, and have only received a few letters since.

      1. That would explain why Johnson is polling in single digits. He clearly doesn’t understand the most people give money to campaigns in order to get attention.

        1. Here’s a great example of that kind of fundraising appeal.

          Skip dinner tonight and send the money to Barack. The future of America depends on YOU!

          1. Don’t you want to be part of the winning team fatty? Don’t you want to feel a higher purpose?

            1. John, I just horked water out of my nose at that…thanks so much.

          2. You know, I am wondering why Obama is whoring so desperately for money this close to the election…

            It’s his last one, and correct me if I’m wrong, but once you’re out of politics, can’t you pocket your campaign war chest?

            1. I thought they closed that loophole.

            2. You know, I am wondering why Obama is whoring so desperately for money this close to the election…

              Apparently the Obama campaign is in serious debt, as is the DNC. Anyone surprised?

              1. The story is that they run an incredibly inefficient campaign full of over paid 20 something hipsters who don’t seem to do much.

                Anyone surprised about that?

                1. The “efficiency” of the Obama campaign is that he hardly pays anything for his own fundraising. It’s done on the public dime.

                  If you wonder why Romney has fewer ads than Obama even though he’s been raising more money, that’s why.

                  One of the perks of being the incumbent, I guess.

            3. You can’t pocket it, but you can suddenly hire a bunch of family members and friends for ridiculously high wages right before the election with the leftovers.

              Or you can transfer the money to a less specific advocacy group, as RP did with Campaign for Liberty.

      2. Johnson is a better human being than Obamney or Rombama, and it’s reflected in his campaign.

  14. I went to both sites with and without cookies. Exactly the same.

  15. The campaigns’ consultants have run experiments to determine if embarrassing someone for not voting by sending letters to their neighbors or posting their voting histories online is effective.

    WHAT. THE. FUCK!!!????

    Stan: Puff Daddy?
    Puff Daddy: Your friend Kyle told me you don’t understand the importance of voting. Apparently you haven’t heard of my vote or die campaign.
    Stan: Vote or Die? What the hell does that even mean?
    Puff Daddy: What do you think it means, bitch?

    Vote or die muthafucka, muthafucka vote or die
    Rock the vote or else I’m gonna stick a knife through your eye
    Democracy is founded on one simple rule
    Get out there and vote or I will muthafuckin’ kill you

    Yeah

    I like it when you vote bitch (bitch)
    Shake them titties when you vote bitch (bitch)
    I slam my jimmy through your mouth roof (mouth roof)
    Now get yo’ big ass in the polling booth

    I said vote, bitch, Or I fuckin’ kill you

    Vote or die muthafucka, muthafucka vote or die
    You can’t run from my .38 go ahead and try
    Let your opinion be heard, you gotta make a choice
    ‘Cause after I slit your throat, you won’t have a fuckin’ voice

    Vote or die
    VOTE OR DIE!

    1. Very nicely done.

  16. Does this mean I’m going to soon have some hot red head show up and offer to exchange services for my vote? If so, I’m all in. I’ll also gladly take 3.5 million dollars.

    1. Make sure her nose is proportional if you choose to do this.

  17. This article was plagerized by the NYT from Stossel’s show last week. Rove admitted he did this stuff, and seemed proud of it.

    1. Of course he was proud of it. All of these assholes are convinced that they are totally in the right and are justified in all of their silly bullshit.

  18. My decision to dump Facebook (currently just deactivated) keeps getting easier.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.