The campaign teams use their own applications to collect voter data and create profiles in order to send compelling personalized messages via SMS, email and social networks, reports AFP.
“In 2016, they relied more on Facebook and other social platforms, but now the campaigns have taken their data collection into their own hands,” said Samuel Woolley, head of propaganda research at the Center for Media Employment at the University of Texas.
“What we see now is almost stronger than in 2016,” he notes.
Facebook is no longer allowed to run applications that collect data about users and their contacts after the scandal of the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica which extracted personal information from the accounts of thousands of people.
Woolley’s team examined fraudulent messages from election campaigns, including some announcing that the vote had not been recorded or providing derogatory information about political opponents. The researchers found that these messages were targeted to certain users according to a profile.
Campaigns gather information through applications, but also from third parties such as data brokerage services or public information.
A program manager in Boston says he received dozens of unsolicited pro-Trump messages as he did not agree to them.
Like others in the same situation, he did not download applications associated with political campaigns, nor did he agree to receive notifications.
“Receiving messages meant to confuse means suppressing the vote,” said Jacob Gursky, a researcher on Woolley’s team.
“These messages can be sent without any prior consent,” he said, adding that campaign teams “can send anonymous messages en masse” without any restrictions.
Some messages are political advertisements, but they are presented without information about their origin, information that social platforms request. The FBI has launched a “protected voices” project to investigate potential violations of the law in these messages.
“Intentional deception of voters to discourage them from voting means suppressing the vote and it is a federal crime,” the FBI said in a September statement.
Trump and Biden’s campaign teams did not respond to requests for information on data protection or privacy policies.
Bridget Barrett, a researcher at the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life at the University of North Carolina, believes that Google’s new measures to limit targeted advertising and tighten Facebook rules for outdoor applications can combat 2016’s behavior to some extent. .
“We no longer allow Russia to buy political ads in the US for rubles, so we are better off,” she said. However, Facebook still allows commercial and political advertising companies to make mailing lists so that users can continue to receive targeted ads.
“We do not have overriding confidentiality rules, so it creates the feeling that the data collected in any way is not illegal at all,” said the researcher.
“The entire digital ecosystem is worrying from the perspective of privacy regarding the private data to which people have a right or the right to information in the use of personal data.”
“Micro-targeting or sending personalized messages to certain individuals or groups has raised concerns in the 2016 election, but it is an old practice” that will not go away any time soon, says Costas Panagopoulos, head of political science at Northeastern University.
He explained that campaign teams have “massive volumes of information about voters that they themselves collect or buy so that they can easily spread misinformation or messages that discourage voters.
“We know what the purpose of some of these messages is: to deprive voters of the right to vote,” he said.
“But voters have an obligation and responsibility to figure out for themselves what they need to do to make their vote count and thus not give in to misinformation meant to suppress or discourage voters.”