Political campaigns increase data collection and voter targeting by using their own apps to bypass restrictions imposed by social media after the British consultancy Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Cambridge Analytica no longer exists but its methods persist in the race for the White House.“Your early vote has not been registered”says a text with a link to more information. Other messages alert voters that they are not registered or offer unverified information about a political opponent.
Messages like that get attention as political campaigns increase data collection and targeting potential voters using their own technology to avoid the restrictions imposed by social networks after the scandal of the British consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
Facebook blocked applications that collected data from its users and their contacts after revelations about the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica. But now, President Donald Trump’s campaign and Activist groups use their own methods.
“What we are seeing is almost more powerful than in 2016,” says University of Texas professor Samuel Woolley, who is in charge of a propaganda research department.
His team examined messages and found that Trump’s app, and to a lesser extent that of his Democratic rival Joe Biden, and other political groups, collect data to personify communication via SMS, email or social networks.
Some applications not only take information from the user, but also your contacts and track your location and activitiessuch as shopping or church attendance.
Campaigns can be combined with third parties, from data marketers or public records, to target highly targeted messages to specific individuals or groups.
“In 2016 there was more dependence on Facebook and other social platforms, but now the campaigns use their own tools for data collection,” said Woolley, for whom Trump’s app it is a “surveillance tool”.
Dozens of unsolicited texts, many with pro-Trump messages, surprised Thomas, a software administrator in Boston.
One said, “Looting. Riots. Cities on fire. Those are realities of Biden’s America. “
“My reaction was initially one of confusion. “said Thomas, 32, who asked not to reveal his full identity. “I’m not in the habit of adhering to entities with a conservative bias,” he said.
Many message recipients did not download a political app or request notifications, according to the researchers.
“If messages are received that sow confusion, it is a pressure on the voters “said Jacob Gursky, a researcher on Woolley’s team.
“You do not need consent to send those messages,” he said, noting that some campaigns “they can send mass anonymous text messages”.
Some messages are effectively electoral propaganda but lack the required diffusion on social networks and other media.
The FBI launched a project called “protected voices” to investigate potential crimes with those messages.