MIT Technology Review takes an in-depth look at the issue of privacy and political campaigns. Here’s the magazine’s introduction: “Internet advertising is the global $70 billion business that powers services like Google and Facebook. This business is built on data about you, and ads that track and target your behavior online are its technological cutting edge. But has tracking gone too far? Web innovations are coming under attack as regulators, courts, and even some competitors push for more consumer control. In this report we look at the business models, beliefs, and technologies that are determining the value of privacy.”
Many of the advertisements people see online today are customized. Using so-called browser cookies, advertisers can track a given Web surfers’ habits and serve them relevant ads.
This election year, a related type of targeted ads—one relying on “political cookies”—is coming into widespread use.
The technology involves matching a person’s Web identity with information gathered about that person offline, including his or her party registration, voting history, charitable donations, address, age, and even hobbies.
Companies selling political targeting services say “microtargeting” of campaign advertising will make it less expensive, more up to the minute, and possibly less intrusive. But critics say there’s a downside to political ads that combine offline and online data. […]
Few Web surfers realize how widely data about them gets bought, sold, and combined. But the practice is common. In a recent investigation, ProPublica revealed that Microsoft and Yahoo each offer political campaigns the ability to target voters in similar ways.