Politics vs privacy: Heads they win, tails you lose

If this political season has proven one thing, it's that neither the Obama nor the Romney campaigns give a damn about your personal privacy.

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So when you go to vote, some stranger will be standing there eyeballing you to determine if you look Republican and ticking you off a list. I find that a bit creepy too, don’t you?

[Update: Two days after casting my ballot early, I got an an email from the Obama campaign: "We see you voted early, Dan...." So clearly the Obamaniacs are watching me too, only from a little further away.]

It’s not just the candidates. The super PACs are getting into it as well. I installed the Vote Early 2012 Facebook app from Karl Rove’s American Crossroads political action committee to see what it would do. Mostly what it seems to do is mine my Facebook profile for information.

Ever since then, I’ve been seeing a heckovalot more pro-Romney ads show up on my Facebook news feed. Are these two things related? Hard to say.

The worst data collection, however, is the kind that goes on invisibly as you surf. Visit either candidate’s Web site and your browser will quickly be festooned with dozens of trackers that will follow you around the Web.

Evidon, the folks behind the Ghostery browser add-on and the Ad Choices program, released a report last week detailing the number and types of online trackers used by the campaign Web sites. Using data gathered from more than 7 million Ghostery users, Evidon found that the number of trackers used by both parties has more than doubled over the past six months, and that the Obamanistas use almost twice as many trackers as the Romneyans.

As Evidon blogger Andy Kahl notes:

Instead of managing their campaign websites as though they were traditional content sites, both campaigns are managing them as though they were sophisticated online commerce sites.  This anonymous tracking of users across the web empowers the campaigns to target them with advertising messages to win their vote the way an e-commerce provider targets consumers to win a transaction.

Of course, that information costs money. In a campaign whose total cost may exceed $6 billion, many hundreds of millions have been spent on obtaining and refining data.

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