Data Mining Targets Undecided Voters

Data mining can be used for many things, and this year, not surprisingly, it’s being used to target undecided voters.

This article talks about the first hand experience of someone who’s experienced this — “Every time Nella Stevens logs on to her computer, ads for President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney follow her from site to site, dogging her every digital step as if begging for her vote”

Candidates are very concerned with attracting voters, especially those who are undecided. Using the same techniques as customer profilers, data miners are creating profiles of voters based on their searches so that they can micro-target them in an attempt to sway their vote towards a particular candidate. As more people are spending time online, it becomes easier to target people through ads, especially since profiles can be built to further target ads. The amount spent on online election advertising this year is estimated to be 160 million — eight times the amount that was spent in the 2008 election. 

Privacy advocates are concerned politicians that use data mining in order to scrounge voters will be reluctant to press for more scrutiny and regulation of data brokers. 

As someone who has always found consumer profiles and targeted ads to be unnerving, I find this method of campaigning to be equally unnerving — especially as an undecided voter, one of the people these techniques are most interested in targeting. However, the Ad Block plug-in for Google Chrome allows me to search freely without worrying that campaign ads will follow me, vying for my vote. 

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One Response to Data Mining Targets Undecided Voters

  1. cbaughma says:

    Advertising online seems to be all the rage these days as most people do spend a significant amount of their time online. I think the explosiveness of online advertising can be represented through the figures you presented in that 8 times the amount of campaign money was spent this year compared to the 2008 election year. I believe the biggest problem is that the general public is unaware that the government is “following” their searches online to find out information about them in order to specifically target the right advertisements to them. How should we go about determining policy for what information online is ethical to use for a given advantage?

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